Tuesday, June 9, 2009

French black soldiers excluded in ‘whites only’ liberation of Paris

Remember the old world war II pictures of the liberation of Paris in 1944, and troops marching on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées Paris? There were no black soldiers there. They should have marched in Paris, but papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a "whites only" victory.

It’s the story Tirailleurs Senegalais (Senegalees Riflemen). The BBC's Document programme has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers - who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces - were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Allied advance into the French capital.

By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly Tirailleurs Senegalais lay dead. Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.

Their chance for revenge came in August 1944 as Allied troops prepared to retake Paris. But despite their overwhelming numbers, they were not to get it.

The leader of the Free French forces, Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris.

American General Frederick Morgan Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle's division must not contain any black soldiers.

Because the French couldn’t form an all white division, they filled the gaps with soldiers from parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

Leopold Sedar Senghor, who in 1960 became the first President of independent Senegal, had served in the Tirailleurs Senegalais and was a POW during WWII. He wrote the poem "Slam par Manu", which is cited in video below

The Tirailleurs Senegalais also occupied the German Rhineland after World war I. Their mixed German children, known as the Rhineland children, fell victim to the Nazi regime.

The story of the Tirailleurs Senegalais is a constant reminder that black history is everywhere.

Paris liberation made 'whites only'
The tirailleursafricains blog


  1. A constant reminder that black history is global, indeed!

    Thanks for this. I'm a little more aware than I was 5 minutes ago.

  2. I felt the same after 5 minutes.


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