BHM Heroes: Jeanne And Paulette Nardal

During the month of February, BRTW ensemble members are selecting personal Black heroes to highlight everyday. These heroes may have spoken the magic words that first made them see their Black beauty, the people who inspired them to become artists, or even the person who taught them how to make proper mixed greens.

If you want to see the “Formation” of black intellectualism and self-love you’d be remiss to ignore the Negritude movement. The term, coined in the 1930’s by Afro-Parisian Aimé Césaire, means “The simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture.” The literary and philosophical movement rejected colonialist ideals and sought to unite African diasporic peoples the world under the banner of a shared yet diverse “black” identity. The facilitators of this movement, the Nardal sisters, are today’s BHM heroes.

Jeanne (19(?)—1993) and Paulette (1896-1985) Nardal were born in Martinique, two of seven daughters of a free black engineer and teacher. In 1920 Paulette moved to Paris, followed by Jeanne three years later. There the sisters studied classical literature and French at the Sorbonne and founded the “Clamart Salon,” a tea shop that regularly brought together black scholars to discuss the ideals of Negritude. The sisters were adamant in their inclusion of feminist politics into the male dominated space, and Jeanne’s writings particularly shaped the direction of the movement. Her essay topics included race and class consciousness among the diaspora, Afro-Latin identity, European fetishism of black women, and later, Black music in the United States. Paulette, a writer and publisher in her own right, was known for being both a publicist and a facilitator. Her fluency in English initiated cross cultural communication amongst the international attendants.

BHM salutes both Jeanne and Paulette Nardal for their groundbreaking Womanism, Negritude, and Intersectional work. None of us would be slaying this hard without you.


Mieko Gavia,

Ensemble Member

*Above photo is of Paulette Nardal. Currently there is no photo of Jeanne available.