Maghreb Noir
The Militant-Artists of North Africa and the Struggle for a Pan-African, Postcolonial Future
Paraska Tolan-Szkilnik



ON A BLISTERING SUMMER DAY in July 1969, a car packed with Moroccan poets and painters, including writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, poet Abdellatif Laâbi, and militant Abraham Serfaty, drove into Algiers for the Pan-African Festival of Algiers (PANAF). At the festival, the young Moroccans joined thousands of militant-artists from across the African continent, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Hotels were overflowing with official delegations from newly independent states, so Ben Jelloun and other non-official attendees had to sleep in schools, in gymnasiums, and even under bridges. During the PANAF, Ben Jelloun met and interviewed Senegalese film director Ousmane Sembène, whose work he loved. To Ben Jelloun, Sembène’s 1968 film Le mandat was the African continent’s first cinematic manifesto because it balked at the harsh realities of life under postcolonial authoritarian regimes. During the interview, Ben Jelloun asked Sembène, “How should African cinema define itself in contrast with Western culture?” Sembène responded categorically: “Let us not talk about the West. Let’s talk about us.”1 The conversation then turned to the role of the artist in Africa. “For me he [the artist] is a politician,” Sembène professed; “he is a man completely engaged in perpetual dissent. His role is to be a militant, a fighter.”2 For Sembène there was only one valid form of art in postcolonial Africa: militant art.

Ben Jelloun and Sembène were debating the role of African artists amid one of the biggest celebrations of revolutionary culture on the African continent, the PANAF. Funded by the Algerian state and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the PANAF consecrated political art through a series of parades, concerts, poetry readings, and visual art exhibits. “The occidental idea of culture has gone a long way and has favored a thesis according to which culture is a luxury of the ‘over-developed,’” read one of the PANAF’s pamphlets.3 The artists at the PANAF aimed to do away with this unacceptable distinction between art and life. Culture in postcolonial Africa, claimed Algerian president Houari Boumédiène in the PANAF’s opening speech, was a crucial “weapon in the struggle for liberation.”4

In the first years of postindependence, the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front; FLN), one of several nationalist organizations that fought for Algeria’s independence from France, appropriated the revolution the Algerian people led against the colonial powers.5 The FLN created an independence narrative that glorified the party’s leaders as anticolonial heroes and celebrated them through state-commissioned art. Monopolizing postcolonial cultural production, the Algerian government propagated the idea of freedom as a collective, Pan-African liberation from foreign rule.6 Pan-Africanism appealed to the Algerian government because, as it was organized around a loose federation of African states, it did not undermine the FLN’s authority. Furthermore, by focusing on Pan-Africanism as a state ideology, Algerian leaders hoped that anticolonial agitators would continue to channel their anger outward, toward the former colonial powers, rather than inwards, toward their increasingly authoritarian leaders.

Given the publicized goal of the PANAF, Ben Jelloun and Sembène could have felt right at home in the boisterous streets of 1969 Algiers. But they and their peers were not fooled by the Algerian government’s attempt at controlling the Pan-African conversation, for they understood that freedom extended well beyond the postcolonial states’ infrastructures.7 They viewed the festival as co-opting the power and potential of revolutionary art, transforming it into a state project that served to uphold a corrupt postcolonial government. And so, outside major state-sponsored events such as the PANAF, Ben Jelloun, Sembène, and their peers met around kitchen tables, in dimly lit bars, and in the leafy cafés of the Algerian capital to talk about what they thought the role of the artist was in postcolonial Africa. Like Sembène, they concluded that the role of the artist was to dissent.

In the decade or so after independence, two different forms of Pan-Africanism collided in the Maghreb. The first was a state-level project staged for all to see at events such as the PANAF. The other was a state-skeptical project led by a fluctuating group of militant-artists who created a Pan-African culture, dissenting from both the enduring legacies of European colonialism and the authoritarianism of the postcolonial states.8 Because of the Maghrebi governments’ largely successful attempts at monopolizing postcolonial Pan-African culture, we must look outside the state, its people and infrastructures, to find that dissenting Pan-Africanism in alternative sites of political engagement such as the radio airwaves, the pages of magazines, festival gatherings, and the intimate spaces of bedrooms.

Maghreb Noir tunes in on these conversations of dissent among militant-artists of what I have termed the Maghreb Generation because of the central role the Maghreb played in their political and artistic evolution.9 The capital cities of the Maghreb (Rabat, Algiers, Tunis) were points of convergence for militant-artists; spaces to write, paint, print zines, film, train militarily, laugh, make love, and debate the future of postcolonial Africa. Maghreb Noir is the story of the Maghreb’s alternative sites of Pan-African engagement and the militant-artists who inhabited these spaces.


The numerous migratory crises that Europe has faced in the past ten years have made the Maghreb the epicenter of Europe’s immigration anxieties. Indeed, the Maghreb has become, for many Africans, an entryway into Europe—a place of passage, a liminal space in which to wait for visas or boats. In the Maghreb, too, the increase in the Black and migrant population has revived many debates on the Maghreb’s relationship to the rest of Africa.10 The 2011 Tunisian Revolution cast a spotlight on the conditions of Black Tunisians.11 To understand the demands of Black Maghrebis and the lived reality of Black migrants in the Maghreb, it is imperative to write the history of relations between the Maghreb and the rest of Africa.

Despite its location on the Mediterranean and its long history as a crossroads between the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, North Africa has remained marginal to the historiographies of all those regions. The Sahara still acts as a dividing line between the Maghreb and the rest of the African continent. A new generation of historians, geographers, and anthropologists have started to break down this construct by revealing the dynamic movement of people, goods, and ideas across Africa in the precolonial and colonial eras.12 More recently, a few scholars have foregrounded the Maghreb as a Pan-African political and cultural hub in the postcolonial era.13 These scholars are writing against decades of French colonial dictates and policies that attempted to sever the Maghreb from the rest of Africa. Indeed, the French imperial government was terrified that transcontinental solidarity would develop between their territories and breed anti-French sentiment and revolutionary anticolonialism. To maintain their empire, the French drew a line in the sand between what they saw as Arab Africa and Black Africa, exploiting linguistic and cultural differences between Black, Berber, and Arab inhabitants of the Maghreb.14

Stories about Pan-Africanism and the Black Atlantic also rarely include North Africa,15 despite the fact that many Black American writers, intellectuals, and artists not only reflected on the plight of North Africans in Europe but also traveled to North Africa.16 American performer Josephine Baker, adored internationally by both Black and white audiences, spent much of World War II leading the French resistance efforts from Morocco and providing Moroccan passports to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.17 The Black American writers James Baldwin, Claude McKay, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and William Gardner Smith, while residing in Paris, traveled to the Maghreb, and expressed their solidarity with the Algerian struggle for independence.18 In 1972, Baldwin wrote, “He [the Algerian], and his brothers were, in fact, being murdered by my hosts [the French]. And Algeria, after all, is a part of Africa, and France, after all, is a part of Europe. The Algerian and I were both, alike, victims of this history, and I was still a part of Africa, even though I had been carried out of it nearly four hundred years before.”19

Maghreb Noir turns to the role that the Maghreb played in the development of a postcolonial Pan-Africanism. First, I argue that the Maghreb Generation’s definition of Blackness was political rather than just racial.20 With their capacious understanding of Blackness, the members of the Maghreb Generation included all colonized, formerly colonized, or otherwise marginalized peoples from across the globe within the Pan-African community. Second, because the ideas of Pan-Africanism were no longer limited exclusively to Black people, a multitude of Black, Arab, White, and Amazigh militants living in the Maghreb during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, took up the project of Pan-Africanism and radically transformed it into a multilingual, multiracial, militant-artistic project.

Indeed, the encounters in North Africa between Black and Maghrebi artists challenged the foundations on which many believed Pan-African solidarities were based. Before traveling to the Maghreb, poets such as the Angolan Mario de Andrade, Haitian René Depestre, and American Ted Joans articulated their ideas along the lines of racial and national solidarity. They were inspired by the political Pan-Africanism of their forefathers, who had fought to free African people through anticolonial struggles and a series of Pan-African congresses.21 They were stirred by the poetry of the négritude movement; they read the works of Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Léon-Gontran Damas, and, throughout the 1950s, they searched for their own Blackness.22 Often this involved the pursuit of a nationally specific négritude, an Angolan, Haitian, or American Black identity.

But as the 1950s became the 1960s, the leaders of the new Black nations became increasingly autocratic. The négritude-rendered policies of Senghor in Senegal and Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti became repulsive to these militant-artists. As Depestre, Joans, and Andrade traveled in the Maghreb, they met Maghrebi poets such as the Moroccan Abdellatif Laâbi and Algerian Jean Sénac, who were equally disenchanted with the new leaders of the postcolonial world. From Algiers, Rabat, and Tunis, they started declaring that rigid racial solidarity was obsolete. In 1966, Depestre published an essay in the Moroccan literary journal Souffles, arguing that “separated from the historical context of the revolution in the Third-World, négritude became an unacceptable ‘black Zionism’ which kept the Black people away from their duty to do the revolution.”23 Joans, who by 1966 had been living in the Maghreb for six years, wrote to his friend, French poet André Breton, that he would not go to Dakar for what he called “Senghor’s merde noire” (Senghor’s Black shit), otherwise known as the First World Festival of Black Arts (1966), because he did not want to participate in an event where artists and poets would be “held up (financially) . . . by Senghor’s black bourgeoisie gangsters assisted by the U.S.A. fat-black-pussy-cat officials.”24 He boycotted Dakar in his “own sweet way,” he continued, by “crossing the Sahara” to Oran, Algeria.25

This is not to say that the language of race was absent from the discourse of postcolonial Pan-Africanism; after all, members of the Maghreb Generation were still careful to distinguish themselves from white Europeans and Americans. Eager not to be confused with the white poets, beatniks, hippies, or “hairy marijuana dealers” of Paris and San Francisco, these poets made clear that they were no mere “marchers of war and peace.”26 Their intention was not to beat the “tam-tams of victory,”27 or to loll in the comforts of folklore and exoticism, but rather to “dynamite the rotten halls of the old humanisms.”28 The militant-artists of the Maghreb Generation pushed beyond the global color line imposed by the former colonial powers, and in so doing they discursively colored all colonized and formerly colonized people, all those who resisted neocolonialism and authoritarianism.29 The Pan-African community, hence, extended beyond the boundaries of the continent, or even of the Diaspora, to all those who sought a third way between the former colonial powers and the new postcolonial states. At the center of that community was the African continent. This book expands the horizons of Black Internationalism by introducing a new hub of Black thought, after Black London, Black Paris, Black New York: Black Tunis, Black Rabat, and Black Algiers—the cities of the Maghreb Noir.30


This project uncovers a history of postcolonial collaboration between militant-artists from across the globe. To write a narrative of artistic activism, I traveled to the Maghreb, France, and the United States. I conducted interviews and scoured through militant-artists’ personal papers, putting together a rich archive of letters, pamphlets, and memorabilia donated by my interviewees. This archive was interdisciplinary in nature: it included poetry, film, and drawings, as well as the more typical historical sources such as newspapers and correspondence. It was also a multilingual archive: I’ve used sources in English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic. Because of the diversity of primary source materials, I have made the choice to focus the narrative of this book exclusively on primary materials and to engage with secondary sources in the endnotes. This is by no means a dismissal of the excellent scholarship that has guided me through researching and writing this book; rather, it is a stylistic choice predicated on my desire to tell a compelling story.

Because of the nature of the contemporary Maghrebi regimes, I was unable to access state archives, either because I was not authorized to do so or because these archives seemingly did not exist. Only in Tunisia was I able to examine documents in the National Archive, but these were few and far between. Most of the JCC (Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage) archives, it seems, have not been classified by the Tunisian Ministry of Culture. However, state-sponsored newspapers and presses followed events such as the PANAF and the JCC closely, publishing play-by-plays of the performances and debates. Much of that plentiful literature is now housed in the Maghrebi national libraries and is thus relatively accessible.

Because the state-sponsored newspapers did not give me a sense of what was going on in the hallways of the Maghrebi governments between state officials, I relied on sources from the French Diplomatic Archives in Nantes to better understand the political context behind the Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian regimes’ various Pan-African projects. The French were active and worried observers of any sort of anti-imperial rapprochement between the Maghreb and other African governments. The French embassies wrote extensive reports to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning Morocco’s involvement in arms trades with the Lusophone militants, tensions arising at the PANAF, and movie projections at the JCC. They commented, with some relief it seems, on the disagreements among Maghrebi states and between the Maghreb and other regions of Africa. At the same time, they continued to play a large part in those divisions, leveraging their technical, economic, and cultural cooperation to promote pro-French politics on the African continent. All these divisive dynamics are visible in the documents from the Diplomatic Archives, masquerading under the guise of cultural reporting on the events in the Maghreb.

Collections of personal papers, such as the Jean Sénac archives in Marseille and Algiers, the René Depestre archives in Limoges, and the Ted Joans archive in Berkeley, have allowed me to delve into the lives of a few of the characters in this project. These archives were rich in terms of what they revealed about the interior lives of the Maghreb Generation, although the peripatetic nature of these characters’ lives meant that there were significant gaps in the documentation—papers were lost, forgotten, or destroyed during moves, forced exiles, or after their death. The Ted Joans archives housed at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley consist of 19 1/2 linear feet of artwork, poetry, and newspaper clippings, among other things. Perusing Joans’s archive was a joyful and at times overwhelming affair: he was an avid notetaker and doodler, and printouts of his poems often included a dense transcript of notes and sexually explicit drawings. Jean Sénac’s archives, housed at both the Mediterranean Literary Archives in Marseille and the National Library in Algeria, were also abundant, though the collection in Algeria was not always in a good state. Like Joans, Sénac kept a plethora of records of his intimate life, from romantic letters to half-smoked cigarettes on which he had scribbled a line of poetry. Both men were essentially hoarders, and I say this as a happy historian lucky enough to sift through their papers.31

Another major source of written archival material comes directly from the protagonists of this book. When I interviewed people such as Kaiser Cheriaa, Hassan Daldoul, Sarah Maldoror, and others, they generously allowed me to copy documents that they had in their possession. These documents complemented the interviews I conducted with them and filled some of the gaps in the state archives. Of course, they were also only a portion of the materials produced during the 1960s and 1970s and thus only reflect what some people thought it was important to keep.

In addition to written sources, between 2018 and 2019 I conducted thirty-three oral history interviews in France, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and the United States, in Arabic, French, and English, some in a mix of French and Arabic or French and English. Though I interviewed in Morocco and Algeria, most of the interviews I conducted were with Tunisian filmmakers and film critics. Because archival documentation was sparse when it came to the JCC, oral interviews provided most of the information for the Tunisian section of the project. Most of my interviewees, the Tunisian filmmakers as well as those I interviewed in Algeria, Morocco, France, and the United States, had been interviewed before. This meant that many of them were familiar with the interview setting and had fixed some of their memories by retelling them over and over. When I brought up information that I had found in the archive or asked questions about their relationships with specific people, I was sometimes able to break the repetition of a fixed narrative and bring up recollections that did not always fit into their well-worn stories. Because many of my interviewees were committed to narrating a specific political project, informed by contemporary concerns and by a general nostalgia for a period of African history that they saw as brighter, they often overlooked tensions, ignoring or even disputing the influence of racial prejudice in various Pan-African projects.

My method of interviewing was semi-structured. I often began with a few questions but then generally let my narrators direct the interview themselves, which led to some unintended conversations, including one theme that came up again and again: sex and women’s sexual liberation. Of the thirty-three people I interviewed, only nine were women. None of the women discussed sex or intimacy with me, and in fact, when I asked Sarah Maldoror about her partner Mario de Andrade, she responded with: “That is my private business, Ma’am.”32 The men I interviewed, however, brought up sexual fantasies and sexual encounters frequently, revealing the many ways in which these encounters challenged or cemented their racial perceptions of themselves and others. Chapter 4 emerged from these uncomfortable but revealing encounters.

My interest in the intersection of art and politics began in 2011, when I wrote an honors undergraduate thesis about the visual arts in postrevolutionary Iran. In 2014, I traveled to Tunisia to do research for my master’s thesis, which I was writing at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. I spent three weeks darting around Tunis and its vicinity interviewing Tunisian painters. In Tunis in 2014, and then again as I conducted the interviews for this project, I benefited from my position as a young French white woman. My interviewees were overwhelmingly kind and gracious; they opened their archives to me and sent me off with books and snacks. They never questioned my motives, never seemed suspicious. On the contrary, my interviewees often let down their guard in ways that I imagine they might not have had I been a foreign man, or possibly more suspicious, a local.

I completed most of my elementary and secondary education in Nantes, France. Even before the French parliament adopted the 2005 law stipulating that schools needed to teach “the positive sides of colonialism,” the history textbooks that I grew up with tended to treat colonialism as a mostly positive enterprise that helped African countries develop the exploitation of their national resources and build up their infrastructure, thus concealing much of the violence and profiteering of colonialism.33 My own interests in the history of Africa and the Maghreb stem from the gaps in my French secondary education, but also, more generally, from the lack of a public reckoning with the histories of France’s racial, linguistic, and religious diversity. Working on Maghreb Noir for the past eight years has been a process of unlearning. Maghreb Noir focuses on telling the stories my French school curriculum did not include—stories that are essential in order for everyone, not just French citizens, to grasp the world of the twenty-first century.


Maghreb Noir moves chronologically and geographically from late 1950s Rabat, through late 1960s Algiers, and to early 1970s Tunis. Each chapter focuses on a case study of a specific transnational encounter between the militant-artists of the Maghreb Generation. Beginning in Morocco, Chapter 1 follows the peregrinations of a group of Luso-African poets and militants from Lisbon to Paris to Rabat. Starting in the late 1950s, these young militant-artists used Rabat as a home base for anticolonial activism in the Portuguese colonies. Morocco served as a liberated space on the African continent, where they could imagine what one could be in the wake of empire. There, they met young Moroccan writers who were haunted by similar concerns over their role in the postcolonial world, among them the poet Abdellatif Laâbi, founder of the Moroccan literary journal Souffles. Chapter 2 centers on the editorial group of Souffles. Over the course of seven years, from 1966 to 1973, Souffles took off from being a small Moroccan literary journal to become a paper caucus through which writers from across the African continent and the Diaspora called for an African cultural revolution.

Maghreb Noir’s third and fourth chapters turn to Algeria’s role in shaping Pan-African thought. By the mid-1960s, Algiers was teeming with revolutionaries from across Africa, the Americas, and Asia, leading the famous militant Amílcar Cabral to call Algiers the “Mecca of Revolutionaries.” Not everyone in Algiers, however, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Algerian government’s bid for Pan-African leadership. Chapter 3 gives voice to poets and artists from Algeria and all over the world who viewed the festival as a façade erected to conceal the decaying ideals that had once sustained the Algerian Revolution. Chapter 4 offers a window onto the carnal underbelly of Algiers’s status as the Mecca of Revolutionaries by looking at sexual and romantic interactions between artists of the Maghreb Generation during the PANAF in 1969. Finally, Chapter 5 turns to Tunisia’s attempt to match Moroccan and Algerian Pan-African leadership. The Tunisian Cultural Ministry, determined to become a key player in the African cultural scene, created the JCC in 1966. Under the joint leadership of the Tunisian intellectual Tahar Cheriaa and the Senegalese novelist and director Ousmane Sembène, the biennale transcended the Tunisian state’s original intent and became a hub for members of the Maghreb Generation to continue creating a Pan-Africanism of dissent.

Maghreb Noir takes the reader from Rabat through Algiers to Tunis. Making use of primary sources, historical analysis, and, I hope, some good old storytelling, this book reconstructs the Maghreb Generation’s moves, their friendships, their intimate relationships, and their artistic production. Weaving together micro-and macrohistories, Maghreb Noir makes the case for a history of the Maghreb that includes the entire African continent and that situates the region as a center of intellectual and cultural production in the second half of the twentieth century.


All translations are mine, unless otherwise noted. For the Arabic transliteration I have adopted the guidelines put forth by the International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) for the names of articles and books but have kept the most common spelling for people’s names and for the names of organizations. Thank you to Brahim El Guabli for his help with the transliterations. All mistakes or inconsistencies in translation or transliteration are mine and mine alone.

1. Ben Jelloun, “Entretien avec Ousmane Sembène,” Souffles, nos. 16–17 (1970), 50. All citations to Souffles and Anfas may be found on the Royal Library of Morocco website, at and

2. Ibid.

3. Pamphlet published by the Algerian government for the PANAF, in Ted Joans, “Black Man’s Guide to Africa,” p. 64, BANC MSS 99/244, box 5, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (hereafter “Bancroft Library”).

4. Hourari Boumédiène, in 1st Festival Culturel Panafricain Algiers 1969 / La culture africaine: Le symposium d’Alger, 21 juillet–1er aout 1969 (Algiers: SNED, 1969), 15.

5. The FLN was an Algerian nationalist organization that fought against French colonial power, assisted by its military branch, the ALN. Upon independence the FLN crushed all other Algerian nationalist organizations, such as the Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (UDMA) led by Ferhat Abbas and the Mouvement National Algérien (MNA) led by Messali Hadj, taking full control of the Algerian government and ruling over the country through a single-party system until 1989. See Malika Rahal’s excellent article “Comment faire l’histoire de l’Algérie indépendante.” For a different history of independence in Algeria, see Rahal’s recent book Algérie 1962: Une histoire populaire, as well as her history of the UDMA, L’UDMA et les Udmistes.

6. Yoav Di-Capua, No Exit, 14–16.

7. In his excellent 2016 monograph, Mecca of Revolution, historian Jeffrey James Byrne contends that the idealistic phase of decolonization in Algeria, in which a diversity of political ideals mingled and coexisted, ended as early as 1965. In the Third World order, Byrne claims, sovereignty and national authority were valued above all; “the state had become not only the sole legitimate manifestation of national liberation or ‘freedom’ but also the irreplaceable instrument of humanity’s aspirations, for the wretched of the earth at least” (291). While Byrne limits his analysis to state actors, historian Yoav Di-Capua, tells the stories of a generation of Arab existentialists who did not hesitate to confront the “ubiquity of patriarchal norms, sexual repression, political impasse, state authoritarianism, violence and an overall absence of freedom and possibilities for self-liberation” (No Exit, 128). Indeed, intellectuals and artists repeatedly challenged nation-states’ authoritarianism, careful not to confuse the construction of the postcolonial identity with a brand of nationalism that condoned exclusion and repression. Sovereignty and national liberation appealed to militant-artists only insofar as they did not interfere with their right to speak, create, and recite. Much like the Czech dissidents that historian Jonathan Bolton introduces in his Worlds of Dissent, these militant-artists “uncomfortably straddled two spaces—the space of a universal public, open to all interested parties, and that of a bounded public, theoretically open to all but also defined by particular customs, value, and goals” (16). For a discussion of the process of intellectual decolonization as autonomous from the state, see Wilder, Freedom Time; and Kumar, Radical Equality.

8. I use the term “Pan-Africanism” to refer to the desire to create an African cultural, political, and economic union. While presenting versions of this book at conferences, I have been asked why I choose to use the term “Pan-Africanism” rather than “Third-Worldism.” My interlocutors point to the presence of peoples from Vietnam, ties with Cuba, and other signs that the Maghreb Generation network was not limited to the African continent. While I understand their argument, I prefer “Pan-Africanism” because that is the term used by my sources, even as they include militant-artists from Asia and Latin America in their networks. Their use of “Pan-Africanism” reflects the centrality of the African continent in the struggle for the postcolonial future. In the intellectual and artistic struggle against colonialism and neocolonialism, Africa was at the forefront.

9. In this book, I use the transliteration “Maghreb” for the Arabic term Al-Maghrib. Although “Maghrib” would be a more accurate transliteration, “Maghreb” is most commonly used in English-language scholarship.

10. See Sadai, “Racisme anti-Noirs au Maghreb: Dévoilement(s) d’un tabou,” Hérodote 180, no. 1 (2021): 131–148; and Salah Trabelsi, “Racisme anti-Noir: ‘Comment le Maghreb en est-il venu à rejeter son africanité?,’Le Monde, February 24, 2019,

11. Mrad Dali, “Les mobilisations des ‘noirs tunisiens’”; Pouessel, “Les marges renaissantes.” See also the BBC documentary by Nareeman Dosa, “Black and Arab: The Hidden Reality of Racism in Tunisia,” BBC News, August 10, 2022,

12. Some titles focusing on trans-Saharan trade include Ahmida, Bridges across the Sahara; Austen, Trans-Saharan Africa in World History; Cheikh, “La caravane et la caravelle”; Lydon, On Trans-Saharan Trails; and McDougall and Scheele, Saharan Frontiers. Other scholars have examined the construction and fluctuation of racial categories in the Sahara and the Sahel—that is, in the spaces of intersection between Black, White, Arab, Amazigh, and more. Some titles include but are not limited to Hall, A History of Race in Muslim West Africa; El Hamel, Black Morocco; Hunwick and Troutt Powell, Same but Different; Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East; and Troutt-Powell, A Different Shade of Colonialism. There are many historians and anthropologists who study the history of Black Maghrebis, often placing their demands in the context of the Maghrebi regimes’ attempts at making the nations more homogenous in the postcolonial period. See the works of Chouki El Hamel, Afifa Ltfi, M’hamed Oualdi, Stephanie Pouessel, and Marta Scaglioni, among others.

The postcolonial history of the Maghreb remains largely the history of the construction of the Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian nation-states. However, as established by scholars such as Malika Rahal (“Local Approach to the UDMA”), who reveals the diversity of political ideals within the Algerian resistance itself, it is important to historicize the diversity of the Maghreb and to show that if the Maghreb states have propagated an image of a homogenous North African nation, many North Africans had other visions for the postcolonial Maghreb. It is time to write the history of the postcolonial Maghreb with multiple identities, including African. See Aseraf’s Sur les traces de Messaoud Djebari and El Guabli’s dossier “Tankraa Tamazight” in the online journal Jadaliyya.

13. See Byrne, Mecca of Revolution; El Guabli, “Refiguring Pan-Africanism through Algerian-Moroccan Competitive Festivals”; and Lydon, “Writing Trans-Saharan History.”

14. Researchers who work on racial dynamics in the Sahara are doing important work. Indeed, while debates over the grammar of race are omnipresent in the European and American press, it is important to historicize this grammar. As historians of Africa and the Middle East, we demonstrate that the ethnic and racial categories that European and French audiences conceive of as immutable have a relatively short history and are directly linked to the history of colonialism. When the French Empire declared control of West Africa in 1895, it fought to separate the region from its North African colonies. This is not to say that racial hierarchies did not exist before the arrival of the French. In A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, historian Bruce Hall reveals the dense tapestry of religious, ethno-linguistic, and racial hierarchies that existed in the Sahel region well before the arrival of the French colonial power. The Sahel participated in a large cosmopolitan network, Hall explains, connected “by shared literacy in Arabic and faith in Islam. As such, Sahelian racial thought cannot be understood as ‘traditional’ any more than it can be deemed a Middle Eastern or European construct. Sahelian intellectuals made active choices in reshaping concepts and practices derived from both local and transregional sources” (317). When the French conquered the Sahel, Hall argues, they were unable to grasp the complex hierarchies already present and settled for a simplistic distinction between North, “white,” Africa and South, “Black,” Africa. As the French gradually took control of the Maghreb and most of West Africa, they unknowingly reinforced a perception of Blackness that was already latent throughout the region. They drew a line between the Arabs and the Blacks but also between “Arab Islam” and “Black Islam.”

In a 2005 article titled “Writing Trans-Saharan History: Methods, Sources and Interpretations across the African Divide,” UCLA historian Ghislaine Lydon argues that the contemporary North-South division resulted in part from policies that dramatized the differences between “white” and “Black” Africans. “While explorations allowed for a better understanding of the area,” writes Lydon, “the Sahara proved a difficult world for the French to grasp” (312). Obsessed with classifying spaces, races, and species, Lydon explains, the French willingly overlooked the nuances in local understandings of ethnicity and race and created taxonomies and nomenclatures of their own. They reified the Sahara as a continental barrier between “white” and “Black” Africa. But, as historian Jean-Louis Triaud explains, the division between “white” and “Black” Africa was not a simple misunderstanding. In Le crépuscule des affaires musulmanes en AOF (500–506), Triaud shows how the colonial administration used multiple tools to reinforce these racial divisions. For one, they kept the administrations and armies separate. As early as 1848, Algeria, the jewel of the French Empire, fell under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. The minister of foreign affairs oversaw the Tunisian (1881) and Moroccan (1912) protectorates. The West African colonies, however, among them Senegal, were the Ministry of Colonies’ responsibility (1895). By dividing the administrations in this way, the French government made sure that colonial administrators would come from different schools and have minimal contact with the administrators in different ministries. The separation was thus complete; the French built an institutional barrier between these territories whose frontiers had previously been permeable. In 1904, when the French took control of Mauritania, they privileged the Moorish military and intellectual elite, exempting them from military service and certain forms of taxation, among other things. By implementing these kinds of petty privileges, explains Triaud, the colonial authorities reinforced the distinction between Arabs and Blacks, between white Africa and Black Africa. See also Hisham Aïdi’s excellent summary of the divisions between Africa and the Middle East in regard to scholarship and intellectual history, “And the Twain Shall Meet.”

15. The canonical story of Pan-Africanism starts in 1900 with the First Pan-African Congress and ends in the early 1960s with African nations attaining independence, and includes only a handful of characters, mostly British and American bourgeois Black men. See, among others, Ajala, Pan-Africanism; Esedebe, Pan-Africanism; Geiss, The Pan-African Movement; and Walters, Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora. Scholarship on Pan-Africanism has largely ignored intellectual and political movements striving for an African homeland (whether imaginary or institutional) prior to 1880 or post-1960. A few contemporary scholars are now reconstructing early forms of Pan-Africanism and reframing the Pan-Africanist narrative within a wider chronology; one example is Toyin Falola and Kwame Essien’s edited volume Pan-Africanism, and the Politics of African Citizenship and Identity, published in 2014. Looking at reverse migrations, this collection of essays demonstrates how these migratory patterns “epitomize the power of alliances, the significance of unity, the influence of the memory of a homeland, contradictions, and contestation about the idea of ‘return,’ and the enduring legacy of Pan-Africanism or lack thereof” (2). In the past couple of decades, some American scholars, including Michael Gomez, Hisham Aïdi, and Sohail Daulatzai, primarily interested in the study of Islam in the United States, have begun to chart the connections between Black Americans and the Middle East, in which they include North Africa. This important work constructs an intellectual history of the African Diaspora and reveals the global networks of ideas in which these communities participated. These works include but are not limited to Aïdi and Marable, Black Routes to Islam; Daulatzai, Black Star, Crescent Moon; Gomez, Black Crescent; Jackson, Islam and the Blackamerican; and McAlister, “One Black Allah.” Historian Robin D. Kelley has published many excellent books about Black cultural networks that span the Atlantic and include North Africa, including Africa Speaks, America Answers and Freedom Dreams.

16. In his seminal book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), Paul Gilroy develops the concept of the Black Atlantic, a “single, complex unit of analysis,” which historians must use to restore Black contributions and contributors to the modern world. Gilroy demonstrates the cruciality of “middle-passages” and of the ship—as a political and cultural site, a new chronotype for the shaping of modern Black identities on both sides of the Atlantic. In the triangle of the Black Atlantic, however, Gilroy examines only two axes, Africa to America and America to Europe, and one language, English. In The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (2003), Brent Hayes Edwards expands on Gilroy’s Black Atlantic and retraces the encounters between Black intellectuals from both the anglophone and francophone worlds in Paris, arguing that Paris allowed “boundary crossing, conversations, and collaborations that were available nowhere else to the same degree” (4). Edwards’s and Gilroy’s work, as well the work of historians in the Black Paris or Black London subgenre, have transformed the history of the Atlantic into a story that highlights Black crossings and encounters. Two of the founding works on Pan-African thought in Paris are Michel Fabre’s From Harlem to Paris and the late Tyler Stovall’s excellent Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Lights. Works on these Black Atlantic connections also include, among others, Archer-Straw, Negrophilia; Clarke and Thomas, Globalization and Race; Goebel, Anti-imperial Metropolis; Matera, Black London; Mudimbe, Surreptitious Speech; Ndiaye, La condition noire; Peabody and Stovall, The Color of Liberty; and Sharpley-Whiting, Négritude Women.

17. Stovall, Paris Noir.

18. In William Gardner Smith’s 1963 The Stone Face, the protagonist, Simeon Brown, a Black man from Philadelphia, moves to Paris in hopes of finding refuge from the unbearable racism in the United States. He quickly realizes, through interactions with French men and women, that he has nothing to fear: “You understand, we like Negroes here, we don’t practice racism in France, it’s not like the United States” (208). Simeon eventually grasps that instead French racism targets the Algerians living in Paris. He befriends several Algerians and witnesses the October 1961 Maurice Papon massacre. An Algerian man in a café, angered by Simeon’s naive conception of race, chides him: “We’re the niggers here! Know what the French call us—bicot, melon, raton, nor’af. That means nigger in French. Ain’t you scared we might rob you? Ain’t you appalled by our unpressed clothes, our body odor? No, but seriously, I want to ask you a serious question—would you let your daughter marry one of us?” (57). In the end, Simeon returns to the United States and begins to refer to Black Americans as the Algerians of the United States. In this fascinating novel, not only does Smith shed light on the horrific treatment of Algerians in France, but he also turns Black Americans’ conception of race on its head—Algerians become the ultimate victims and those who suffer are, thus, Algerian.

19. Baldwin, No Name in the Street, 377. This is a crucial anecdote because, as Tyler Stovall explains in his field-defining book Paris Noir, France had always seemed like an appealing place for Black Americans fleeing American white supremacy—many Black Americans mistakenly assumed that white French people were less racist than their white American counterparts. Baldwin realized, however, that the French were no less racist, simply that their racism was directed toward a different other: the Algerian.

20. The Maghreb Generation’s articulation of Blackness as political rather than racial predates British cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s coinage of the concept “political blackness” in the 1970s. In the Great Britain of the 1980s, the concept of “political blackness” was all the rage; in a society where Britishness was all too often equated with whiteness, the concept was used to create political solidarity between Black Britons and Asian Britons. Stuart Hall’s and the Maghreb Generation’s goals were similar: to create solidarity drawing on the internationalist tradition of W. E. B Dubois and Malcolm X. As Malcolm X famously said in a 1964 speech to the Militant Labor Forum of the Socialist Workers Party: “When I say Black, I mean nonwhite. Black, brown, red, or yellow.”.

21. See Adi and Sherwood, The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited; Ashley Farmer, “Black Women Organize for the Future of Pan-Africanism: The Sixth Pan-African Congress” (blog), Black Perspectives, July 3, 2016,; and Hodder, “Elusive History of the Pan-African Congress.” See also two more recent contributions to the field of Pan-Africanism: Adi, Pan-Africanism; and Boukari-Yabara, Africa Unite!

22. In 1953, Mário de Andrade and Francisco Tenreiro published the cuaderno Poesía negra de expressão portuguesa with the intention of publicizing a specifically Luso-African form of négritude.

23. René Depestre, “L’intellectuel révolutionnaire et ses responsabilités envers le Tiers-Monde,” Souffles, no. 9 (1968): 45.

24. Ted Joans to André Breton, May 5, 1966, Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, Paris.

25. Ibid.

26. Abdellatif Laâbi, “Lisez ‘Le petit marocain,’Souffles, no. 2 (1966): 7. See also Ted Joans, “The Negro and the Hippies,” box 16:33, BANC MSS 99/244z, Bancroft Library.

27. Mario de Andrade, “Culture et lutte armée,” Souffles, no. 9 (1968): 54.

28. Abdellatif Laâbi, “Prologue,” Souffles, no. 1 (1966): 6.

29. Mahler, From the Tricontinental, 13.

30. I have chosen to limit my study of the Black Maghreb to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, in order to curb the scope of the book. There is also excellent literature on the role of Cairo in Pan-African networks. The three countries in the western Maghreb have received comparatively limited scholarly inquiry, particularly in anglophone academia. For some titles on Egypt, see Curtis, “‘My Heart Is in Cairo’”; Lubin, Geographies of Liberation; and Tawfik, “Egypt and the Transformation of the Pan-African Movement. Another reason for my choice to exclude Cairo from Maghreb Noir is that the networks in Cairo were somewhat different from those that evolved in Algiers, Rabat, and Tunis. It seems to me that the Black networks in Cairo were largely dominated by African Americans, whereas the cities of the Maghreb Noir attracted a more diverse range of militant-artists from across the African continent and the African Diaspora. There are probably several explanations for this phenomenon, one of which may be the issue of language: the Maghreb attracted many francophone militant-artists, as well as people for whom learning French would not have been too difficult, for example, the Lusophones. Another reason may be the matter of political news circulation. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who served as president of Egypt between 1954 and 1970, was a charismatic leader who had struck a defiant stance against the colonial powers during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, thus earning the admiration of many Black radicals in the United States. As Sohail Daulatzai explains, “For Black Muslims in the United States, not only was Egypt the center of African civilization and proof of Black historical greatness, but it was also now a Muslim country. In linking Black greatness and Islam, Nasser and Egypt came to represent a powerful symbol that connected Africa and Asia, a space in which the Muslim Third World and Black Islam forged a defiant anticolonial posture against white supremacy” (Black Star, Crescent Moon, 24). Cairo thus became a center for African American expatriates, and in particular for many Muslim Black Americans. The cities of the Black Maghreb did not have a similar religious appeal, or at least not in this period. In fact, the members of the Maghreb Generation showed little interest in religion; rarely did they mention religion or God in their writings, and when they did, it was overwhelmingly in a negative light, as something that restricted their ability to speak or act freely.

31. For extensive descriptions of both men’s archival collections, look no further than Alcalay and Tronrud, “Ted Joans: Poet Painter/Former Villager Now / World Traveller”; and Krienke, “Sun under the Weapons.”

32. Sarah Maldoror, interview with author.

33. Loi n° 2005-158 du 23 février 2005 portant reconnaissance de la Nation et contribution nationale en faveur des Français rapatriés, Article 4.