Blacks in European Christendom
What the research shows

It's not what you think!

On the urging of several colleagues and friends, I posted the following in one of the medieval culture & history newsgroups. I received so many replies Re: my position on Blacks in late medieval Europe; this was one of the best.
Some time ago, I forwarded a list of readings for those who needed "proof" that a brother or sister of African (Nubian or Ethiopian as termed in those days) heritage, living in Paris circa 1490, would experience life totally differently from that of her 19th and 20th Century American counterparts.
Unfortunately, that list was met with disdain and derision -- which was why I dropped out of the "official" fandom. Any time someone trashes Afro American scholars of merit (W.E.B. DuBois, St. Clair Drake, J.A. Rogers, Carter G. Woodson, then it's time for parting of ways. You can't educate people who think they know everything but don't know jack.
Not too many people were pleased with the results of of my research on Black/White relations during this time period. But many more were extremely impressed with my newly found information, and became enraged when I shared the previous reactions to my initial findings.

I decided to include that part of medieval cultural history in my fan fiction for two reasons:

  1. As an African American woman writing about an interracial, transtemporal relationship, I began feeling those "sleeping with the enemy" guilt pangs. Danisha is a Black American woman from the late 20th Century. She grew up with racism; she knows what it's like to be Black in America. Being Black in 1485 Paris is something entirely different. Even slavery of the time period differs from the brutal institution later introduced in the American colonies.
  2. I simply needed some reassurance that Danisha's presence would not be miscontrued as "evil". The fact that she's of color would not be suspect; on the contrary, her religious leanings would definitely determine how she's to be regarded. The first thing 1400's Parisians would ask most likely, "Is she Muslim?", not "What's that n****r doing here messing with our judge". This is what some would EXPECT and LIKE to see happen. Sorry folks, it doesn't wash.

For a list of my resources please email me. I will be happy to provide a reading list.

Now for that posting and reply. Some responses are interpersed; they are marked by braces [like this].
(I x'ed out email addys for my respondent's and my own protection)

Saved message: posted to medieval history newsgroup
From: (CraigLevin)
Date: Mon, Sep 13, 1999, 11:18am
Subject: Re: Blacks in medieval Europe

In article <> you write:

This is my first posting to this ng ever. I discovered this place while browsing so I hope I get some response to my questions. I am pre-writing a series of short stories set in France and Italy circa 1485 thru 1500.
My lead characters are full-blooded Black African and of mixed ancestry -- A few have been slaves (recently freed), others have never experienced bondage.
Was it possible for persons of mixed ancestry (uh...'mulattoes' and 'quadroons' for lack of better terms) to accumulate wealth through moneylending or trade? Actually I'd like to believe the latter.

[Quite probably. My work in Portuguese history has led me to believe that, in many cases, slaves were freed either upon accepting Christianity or upon the death of their owners. In that case, if they had learned a trade, they would doubtless practice it. If the trade was one related to banking (goldsmiths, for example, were among the first bankers), going into banking would not have been surprising.]

Now, here's my question. Imagine that I, a black woman, walks down a Paris street (remember this is c.1487). Will I get the "Go home 'N-word'" treatment, the crossburning in my front yard, or be met by a lynch mob at the city gates. How about interactions with the nobility, merchant class, and peasantry. Will I be watched while shopping? More importantly how would a Black get along with the Romani and the Jew? Was it religion over race, or was skin color (e.g. Being Black) a hot button issue as it would be in the American colonies?

Rest of the reply:

[Paris? You're more of a curiosity there than anything else. On the other hand, once people figure out that you're essentially an oddly colored Spaniard or Portuguese, they'll treat you like any other foreigner, I'd imagine. Dealings with the gentry et al. would probably depend upon how you lived. One rather doubts that a woman of distinctly higher- than-average income would find herself inconvenienced while shopping, for example-money, even then, talked. On the other hand, a strangely tinctured beggar might not get a good reception at a merchant's booth, but, then again, nor would a more familiar apearing one.]
[Given that the Rom were, at the time, being placed under harsh laws, it would probably depend on the social class you typically ran with. I doubt a gentlewoman would have cause to deal with them, and a prosperous merchant's wife probably wouldn't either. If I recall correctly, Jews were not precisely welcome in France, and were restricted in their way of life-they were not allowed to own land, nor enter certain trades, and, on occasion, their holy books were taken out and burnt as impious.]
Craig Levin

It's me again. There are other such correspondence Several are from African American history and culture newsgroups, forums, and mailing lists. My findings also have the backing of prominent African American Studies writers, scholars, and social scientists. Results of my research are also backed by my own colleagues; this subject is common knowledge amongst urban public and private schoolteachers.
Now that my position is so avidly supported, you may read -- and I may write -- my stories with confidence.
Any questions? Email me and we'll talk.


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