Arna Bontemps, Louisiana-Born Historian of the Black Experience
Arna Bontemps African-American Museum in Alexandria, Louisiana, honors the birthplace of Arnaud “Arna” Bontemps (1902-1973), a writer of just about every type of literature — poetry, novels, children’s books, non-fiction, etc. He was born to a Creole family in Louisiana, and his parents wanted a better life for him than they experienced in their hometown.
He grew up in Watts, California, attended high school in San Francisco, then college in L.A., before accepting a teaching position in New York, where he became part of the Harlem Renaissance. His friends included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and other writers.
Later, he earned a library science degree from the University of Chicago (1943), and then became even better known as a librarian (appointed to Fisk University) and an historian of African American literature. He continued writing and editing throughout his life.
His children’s books include the award-winning Story of the Negro, Popo and Fifina, and God Sends Sunday.
Arna Bontemps African American Museum
The Arna Bontemps African American Museum is inside the house where he was born and lived for the early years of his life. Even after spending most of his life in California, Bontemps always referred to the house in Alexandria as his home. In addition to the exhibits inside of the house, the front yard has a path you can follow with signs explaining important parts of his life. You may need to confirm by phone that the museum will be open when you drop by, as the hours may change. Even if the museum is closed, you can still see St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, the church where Arna Bontemps was baptized, just a couple of blocks away from the museum.
Arna Bontemps grew up in California and attended a small Seventh Day Adventist College there, Pacific Union College. A study lounge was named in his honor. Read about his California life and beyond here: Arna Bontemps in California.
This is the seventh and last stop on our Louisiana Author Adventures Trail.