Pied-Noir ("Black-Foot"), plural Pieds-Noirs, pronounced /pje.nwaʁ/, is a term used to refer to colonists of Algeria until the end of the Algerian War in 1962. Specifically, Pieds-Noirs were French nationals, including those of European descent, Sephardic Jews, and settlers from other European countries such as Spain, Italy, and Malta, who were born in Algeria. From the French invasion in June 18, 1830, until attaining independence, Algeria formed three départements (Algiers, Oran and Constantine) and was considered a part of France. By independence, the Pieds-Noirs accounted for 1,025,000 people, or roughly 10 percent of the total population. Specifically, Pieds-Noirs were French nationals, including those of European descent, Sephardic Jews, and settlers from other European countries such as Spain, Italy, and Malta, who were born in Algeria. From the French invasion in June 18, 1830, until attaining independence, Algeria formed three départements (Algiers, Oran and Constantine) and was considered a part of France. By independence, the Pieds-Noirs accounted for 1,025,000 people, or roughly 10 percent of the total population.

The Pied-Noir are known in reference to the Algerian War, which saw the deaths of 24,000 French Nationals and between 30,000 and 150,000 Algerians, with estimates varying due to differing statistical analyses. The war The Algerian War was fought by nationalist groups such as the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) against the colonial French government in response to political and economic inequalities as well as their perceived "alienation" from the French settlers. The conflict attributed to the fall of the French Fourth Republic and the repatriation of French Nationals to France.

After Algeria became independent in 1962, more than one million Pied-Noir settlers of French nationality returned to mainland France. Upon arriving, many felt ostracized by the public perception that they had caused the war and the political turmoil surrounding the collapse of the French Fourth Republic. Complicating the situation, the Pieds-Noirs felt that they could not return to Algeria because of the violence and resentment of the settlers and the native Algerians. In popular culture, the community is often represented as feeling removed from French culture while longing for Algeria. Thus, the recent history of the pieds-noirs has been imprinted with a theme of double alienation from both their native homeland and their adopted land.

Origin of the term

The origin of the term Pieds-Noirs is debated. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Pied-Noir refers to "people of French origin living in Algeria during French rule, and to those who returned to Europe after the granting of independence in 1962." Le Robert cites that from 1901 the word indicated a sailor working bare foot in the coal room of a ship, who would find his feet dirtied by the soot. In the Mediterranean, this was often an Algerian native, thus the term was used pejoratively for Algerians until 1955 when it first began referring to "French born in Algeria." This usage originated from mainland French as a negative nickname. Other theories focus on new settlers dirtying their clothing by working in swampy areas, or trampling grapes to make wine.


French invasion and settlement

European settlement began in the 1830s when France invaded Algeria. The invasion was instigated when the Dey of Algiers struck the French consul with a fly-swatter in 1827, although economic reasons are also cited. In 1830, the government of Charles X blockaded Algeria and an armada sailed to Algiers, followed by a land expedition. A complement of 34,000 soldiers landed on June 18, 1830, at Sidi Ferruch, west of Algiers. Following a three-week campaign, the Dey Hussein capitulated on July 5, 1830, and was exiled.

In the 1830s, the French controlled only the northern part of the country. Entering the Oran region, they faced resistance from Emir Abd al-Kader, a leader of the Sufi Brotherhood. In 1839, al-Kader began a seven-year war by declaring jihad against the French. The French signed two peace treaties with al-Kader, but they were broken because of miscommunication between the military and the Parisian government. In response to the breaking of the second treaty, al-Kader drove the French to the coast. In reply, a force of nearly 100,000 troops marched to the Algerian countryside and forced al-Kader's surrender in 1847. In 1848, Algeria was divided into three départements of France, Alger, Oran, and Constantine, thus becoming part of the French state.

The French modeled their colonial system on their predecessors, the Ottomans, by co-opting local tribes. In 1843, the colonists began supervising through Bureaux Arabes operated by military officials with authority over particular domains. This system lasted until the 1880s and the rise of the French Third Republic, when colonization intensified. Large-scale expropriation of land began when land-speculation companies took advantage of government policy that required abandonment of native property. By the 20th century Europeans held "1,700,000 hectares and by 1940,  2,700,000 hectares, about 35 to 40 percent of the arable land of Algeria." Settlers came from all over the western Mediterranean region, particularly Italy, France, Spain, and Malta.

Relationship to mainland France and Muslim Algeria

The Pied-Noir relationship with France and Algeria was marked by alienation. The settlers considered themselves French, but many of the Pieds-Noirs had a tenuous connection to mainland France, which 28 percent of them had never visited. The settlers encompassed a range of socioeconomic strata, ranging from peasants to large landowners, the later of whom were referred to as grand colons.

In Algeria, the Muslims were not considered French and did not share the same political or economic benefits. For example, the indigenous population did not own most of the settlements, farms, or businesses, although they numbered nearly 9 million (versus roughly one million Pieds-Noirs) at independence. Politically, the Muslim Algerians had no representation in the Algerian National Assembly and wielded limited influence in local governance. To obtain citizenship, they were required to renounce their Muslim identity. Since this would constitute apostasy, only about 2,500 Muslims acquired citizenship before 1930. The settlers' politically and economically dominant position worsened relations between the two groups.

Jewish community

Jews, specifically Sephardi Jews, were present in North Africa for centuries, many since the time when "Phoenicians and Hebrew, engaged in maritime commerce, founded Annaba, Tipasa, Caesarea, and Algiers." Others arrived following the Spanish Reconquista and more from Palestine after the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73 CE). In 1870, Justice Minister Adolphe Crémieux wrote a proposal, décret Crémieux (The Crémieux decree), giving French citizenship to Algerian Jews. Thus, the Jews of Algeria came to be considered part of the Pied-Noir community. This advancement was resisted by part of the larger Pieds-Noirs community. In 1897 a wave of anti-semitic riots rolled through Algeria, and during World War Two the The Crémieux decree was abolished under the Vichy regime, and Jews were barred from professional jobs. Although citizenship was restored in 1943, many Jews fled the country in 1962 with the Pieds-Noirs after the Algerian War.

Algerian War and exodus

Algerian War

For more than a century France maintained colonial rule in Algerian territory. Discontent among the native Algerians grew after the World Wars, in which the Algerians sustained many casualties. Algerian nationalists began efforts aimed at furthering equality by listing complaints in the Manifesto of the Algerian People, which requested equal representation under the state and access to citizenship. The French response was to grant citizenship to 60,000 "meritorious" Algerians. During a reform effort in 1947, the French created a bicameral legislature with one house for the Pieds-Noirs and another for the Algerians but made a European's vote seven times more valuable than a native's. In response, paramilitary groups such as the Front de Libération nationale (FLN) appeared. This led to a war for independence, the Algerian War from 1954 until 1962, causing the relocation of roughly 900,000 Europeans and Jews.

At the onset of the war, the Pieds-Noirs believed the French military would be able to overcome opposition. However, in May 1958 the situation intensified after General Massu seized power in Algeria. As head of a junta, he demanded that Charles de Gaulle be named president of the French Fourth Republic to prevent the "abandonment of Algeria". This eventually led to the fall of the Republic. In response, the French Parliament voted 329 to 224 to place de Gaulle in power. Once de Gaulle assumed leadership, he attempted peace by visiting Algeria within three days of his appointment and by organizing a referendum for Algerian self-determination that passed overwhelmingly. Pieds-Noirs viewed this as betrayal and formed the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) and began attacking institutions representing the French state, Algerians, and de Gaulle himself. The OAS was also accused of murders and bombings nullifying reconciliation opportunities between the communities.

The bloodshed culminated in 1961 during an Algiers putsch of 1961, led by retired generals. After this failure, on March 18, 1962, de Gaulle and the FLN signed a cease-fire agreement, the Évian accords, and held a referendum. In July, the Algerians voted 5,975,581 to 16,534 to become independent of France.


The exodus began once it became clear that Algeria would become independent. In Algiers, it was reported that by May 1961 the Pieds-Noirs'  morale had sunk because of violence and allegations that the entire community of French nationals had been responsible for "terrorism, torture, colonial racism, and ongoing violence in general" and because the group felt "rejected by the nation as Pieds-Noirs ". These factors, the Oran Massacre, and the referendum for independence caused the Pied-Noir exodus to begin in earnest.

The number of Pied-Noirs who fled Algeria totaled more than one million between 1962 and 1964. Hurried, many Pieds-Noirs left only with what they could carry in a suitcase. Adding to the confusion, the de Gaulle government ordered the French Navy not to help with transportation of French citizens. By September 1962, cities like Oran, Bône, and Sidi-Bel-Abbès were half-empty. All administration, police, schools, justice, and commercial activities stopped within three months after many were told to choose either "la valise ou le cercueil" (the suitcase or the coffin). Only 100,000 Pieds-Noirs chose to remain, but they gradually left through the following decade, by the 1980s only a few thousand Pieds-Noirs remained in Algeria.

Flight to mainland France

The French government claimed that it had not anticipated that such a massive number would leave; it believed that perhaps 300,000 might choose to depart temporarily and that a large portion would return to Algeria. The administration had set aside funds for absorption of those they called "repatriates" to partly reimburse them for property losses . The administration avoided acknowledging the true numbers of refugees in order to avoid upsetting its Algeria policies. Consequently, few plans were made for their return, and, psychologically at least, many of the Pieds-Noirs were alienated from both Algeria and France.

Many Pieds-Noirs settled in France, while others migrated to New Caledonia, Spain, Australia, North America, Israel, and South America. In France, many relocated to the south, which offered a climate similar to North Africa. The influx of new citizens affected the existing population by bolstering local economies; however, the newcomers also competed for jobs, which caused resentment. In some ways, the Pieds-Noirs were able to integrate well into the French community, relative to their Maghrebin and Muslim counterparts. Their resettlement was made easier by the economic boom of the 1960s. However, the ease of assimilation depended on socioeconomic class. Integration was easier for the upper classes, many of whom found the transformation less stressful than the lower classes, who were not prepared for reduced status. Many were surprised that they no longer were seen as superior; in fact, they were often treated as an "underclass or outsider-group". Also, many Pieds-Noirs contended that the money allocated by the government to assist in relocation and reimbursement was insufficient.

Thus, the repatriated Pieds-Noirs frequently felt "disaffected" from French society. They also suffered from a sense of alienation stemming from the French government's changed position towards Algeria. Until independence, Algeria was legally a part of France; after independence many felt that they had been betrayed and were an "embarrassment" to their country or to blame for the war. At times, the repatriates were stigmatized by assumptions that they had all been grands colons and were to blame for their misfortune. Conversely, the Pieds-Noirs felt unable to return to their birthplace, Algeria, because of the independence movement's violence.

Notable Pieds-Noirs

See also


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