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Author probes spirit of black expatriates

Banner Staff

There is not an extensive literature on the history of African American expatriates living in Europe. That is probably because there were not very many. Starting during the roaring twenties, some black musicians, artists, singers and dancers, tired of racial discrimination in America, left for the more welcoming environs in Europe.

The most prominent exile was Josephine Baker, an extraordinary, beautiful song and dance star from St. Louis. From her base in Paris she became the belle of Europe, with a career that extended for 50 years.

Other notable émigrés included the writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin, but the career of Josephine Baker was so prominent and outstanding that her spirit serves as the driving force for Florence Ladd’s novel “The Spirit of Josephine.” The heroine of Florence’s story is Violet Fields, an aging but once famous jazz singer from Louisville, Ky., who is able to channel Josephine.

The Cold War in the late 1940s and 1950s created an increase of black expatriates primarily to Paris. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was on the rampage to uncover communist sympathizers in the U.S. He believed that interracial relationships were sufficiently un-American to be suspicious. Consequently, musicians and artists became prime targets of his investigations because of their greater lack of concern for the race of their friends and peers.

The author provided a glowing account of the moods and memories of Violet. One is able to experience through her, the anguish of being separated from family and one’s origins when life’s applause dies down and the burdens of aging multiply.

Florence Ladd’s “The Spirit of Josephine” shines a klieg light on an era of black history that might otherwise remain in the shadows.

Côte-d’Or Press: Available at Amazon Books

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