Beyond the Shores: A History of African Americans Abroad
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • An award-winning author charts the poignant global journeys of African Americans as she explores her own transatlantic family odyssey in Beyond the Shores, a powerful history of living abroad while Black.
“By exploring the life of Black expats, creatives, and activists, Beyond the Shores enhances the stories of migration to reveal how race is lived in the United States and abroad.”—Marcia Chatelain, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of South Side Girls
Part historical exploration, part travel memoir, Beyond the Shores reveals poignant histories of a diverse group of African Americans who have left the United States over the course of the past century. Together, the interwoven stories highlight African Americans’ complicated relationship to the United States and the world at large.
Beyond the Shores is not just about where African Americans stayed or where they ate when they traveled but also about why they left in the first place and how they were treated once they reached their destinations. Drawing on years of research, Dr. Tamara J. Walker chronicles their experiences in atmospheric detail, taking readers from well-known capital cities to more unusual destinations like Yangiyul, Uzbekistan, and Kabondo, Kenya. She follows Florence Mills, the would-be Josephine Baker of her day, in Paris, and Richard Wright, the author turned actor and filmmaker, in Buenos Aires. Throughout Beyond the Shores, she relays tender stories of adventurous travelers, including a group of gifted Black crop scientists in the 1930s, a housewife searching for purpose in the 1950s, a Peace Corps volunteer discovering his identity in the 1970s, and her own grandfather, who, after losing his eye fighting in World War II and returning to a country that showed no signs of honoring his sacrifice, set out with his wife and children on a circuitous journey that sent them back and forth across the Atlantic. Tying these tales together is Walker’s personal account of her family’s, and her own, experiences abroad—in France, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, and beyond.
By sharing the accounts of those who escaped the racism of the United States to try their hands at life abroad, Beyond the Shores shines a light on the meaning of home and the search for a better life.
Praise for Beyond the Shores: A History of African Americans Abroad
“Much more than a mere group biography, Beyond the Shores is a well-researched account of how global social, cultural and political affairs shaped the conditions for African Americans to travel. Walker combines the detailed knowledge of a tour guide with storytelling flair.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Vivid . . . With each story, Beyond the Shores builds a canon of Black creative expression that crosses both temporal and geographic barriers. . . . As others’ stories unfold, so does [Walker’s] own, giving the book the feel of a travel memoir without ever losing the gravity of a historical compendium. The interplay deepens the book’s storytelling.”—The Atlantic
“An intimate history . . . Nuanced, poignant tales that beautifully flesh out a little-known aspect of the African American experience.”—Kirkus Reviews
“An absorbing and vibrant group biography. By exploring the life of Black ex-pats, creatives, and activists, Walker enhances the stories of migration to reveal how race is lived in the U.S. and abroad. Beautifully researched, this book blends history and autobiography seamlessly in order to tell several American stories.”—Marcia Chatelain, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of Franchise
“Beyond the Shores is a marvel, both epic and intimate, rigorous and rousing. Walker brings each of her characters’ journeys fully alive. Together, their stories illuminate how African Americans have transformed the world with their liberatory vision, creativity, and courage.”—Nadia Owusu, author of Aftershocks
“Through exquisitely crafted storytelling, Beyond the Shores tells of a different Great Migration. Rather than fighting a seemingly losing battle at home, many African American families, including Walker’s, moved to foreign lands and found both privilege and pain. It’s a story of resilience and hope in the midst of ever-present racism.”—Dorothy A. Brown, author of The Whiteness of Wealth
“Walker brings the stories of famous and everyday people, including her own family, to life with great vividness and clarity. This important book is a timely meditation on nation, home, and belonging.”—Carrie Gibson, author of El Norte
“Beyond the Shores masterfully blends memoir with vibrant portraits of African Americans abroad. The result is a stunningly original and beautifully written book, one that reconsiders the meaning of both home and away. . . . A must-read!”—Sean Mills, author of A Place in the Sun
“A moving and original contribution to U.S. and especially African American history, Beyond the Shores adds global dimensions to our understanding of the Great Migration during the twentieth century.”—Surekha Davies, author of Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human
“Innovative . . . Walker provides a rich and nuanced portrait of an understudied aspect of African American life. It’s a unique contribution to American history.”—Publishers Weekly