Performer, War Hero, and Civil Rights Activist Josephine Baker Is the First Black Woman Honored at the Panthéon

Historical past is being made at this time: American-born French entertainer, battle hero, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker would be the first-ever Black lady to be honored on the Panethéon mausoleum in Paris. She joins the ranks of just about 80 celebrated French heroes, together with double Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie and iconic author Victor Hugo.

Josephine Baker was a rare performer who used her abilities and success to fight hate and injustice. Although she is going to stay in her remaining resting place in Monaco, a casket of earth from the U.S., France, and Monaco — the three locations she as soon as referred to as dwelling — will probably be positioned within the well-known mausoleum together with a plaque honoring her.

Rags to riches

Josephine was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906, to a single mom who struggled to dress and feed her. 

Josephine at age 3 living with her stepfather Arthur Martin and mother Carrie in the 1910 U.S. Census on MyHeritage (Click to enlarge)

Josephine at age 3 dwelling together with her stepfather Arthur Martin and mom Carrie within the 1910 U.S. Census on MyHeritage (Click on to enlarge)

Josephine Baker as a child. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage photo tools

Josephine Baker as a baby. Picture enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage picture instruments

At solely 8 years of age, Josephine started working as a live-in home for white households. She dropped out of college at age 12 and at 13 was working as a waitress and a street-corner dancer to make a dwelling. She bought married at age 13, however divorced lower than a yr later. Her second marriage at age 15 was to William Howard Baker, and although she left him they usually divorced in 1925, she stored utilizing his title professionally.

Josephine, at 14, after taking the name of her first husband, William Wells, 21, mentioned in the 1920 U.S. Census alongside Josephine’s half-brother Richard, 12; her half-sisters Margaret, 11, and Willie May, 9; and her maternal grandmother Elvira McDonald, 85 (Click to enlarge)

Josephine, at 14, after taking the title of her first husband, William Wells, 21, talked about within the 1920 U.S. Census alongside Josephine’s half-brother Richard, 12; her half-sisters Margaret, 11, and Willie Could, 9; and her maternal grandmother Elvira McDonald, 85 (Click on to enlarge)

Josephine knew she was destined for better issues and at age 13 she satisfied a present supervisor to recruit her for the St. Louis Refrain vaudeville present. However her actual first huge break got here when she sailed to Paris at age 19 and opened in La Revue Nègre and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. She turned an instantaneous success there as an erotic dancer, famously showing in a skirt of synthetic bananas and a beaded necklace. Although very fashionable in France, she wasn’t almost as well-received again dwelling, and he or she ultimately renounced her American citizenship and have become a French citizen as a substitute.

See Josephine carry out her first track “J’ai deux amours”:

Whereas her accomplishments within the leisure trade are admirable, her nerve and daring prolonged far past the stage. And when the shadow of World Warfare II fell over her beloved adopted dwelling, Josephine wasn’t going to face by idly.

Resisting the Nazis

In September 1939, Josephine joined the Deuxième Bureau, the French army intelligence company. As an “honorable correspondent,” she socialized with Germans at embassies, evening golf equipment, and social occasions, exercising her fame and private attraction to secretly collect info for the French.

Josephine mentioned in the Ellis Island Passenger Lists and Other New York Lists, 1820-1857 collection on MyHeritage (click to enlarge).

Josephine talked about within the Ellis Island Passenger Lists and Different New York Lists, 1820-1857 assortment on MyHeritage (click on to enlarge).

After the Germans invaded France, Josephine refused to carry out for them. She left Paris and housed members of the Free French effort in her dwelling in Dordogne, supplying them with visas. She leveraged her standing as an entertainer to maneuver freely round Europe and South America and transmit info to the Allies about German airfields, harbors, and troops in western France, utilizing notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music. She even pinned notes with gathered intelligence in her underwear, counting on her superstar standing to keep away from a strip search. She additionally raised funds for the resistance, typically contributing from her personal fortune.

Josephine was awarded quite a few army honors for her work in the course of the battle, together with the Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance, the Commemorative medal for voluntary service in Free France, and the Resistance medal. She was additionally “knighted” as a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by Basic Charles de Gaulle.

Josephine Baker in her military uniform. Photo colorized with MyHeritage photo tools. Original photo by Studio Harcourt

Josephine Baker in her army uniform. Picture colorized with MyHeritage picture instruments. Unique picture by Studio Harcourt

Preventing racial inequality

After the battle, Josephine’s profession reached new heights, and in 1951 she was invited again to the US. The tour began out spectacularly, with rave opinions and enthusiastic followers — however was interrupted by an incident within the Stork Membership in Manhattan. Regardless of her stardom, she was refused service on the membership. Josephine — who all alongside had been refusing to carry out in segregated venues — criticized the membership and accused them of racism. Within the aftermath, she was accused of Communist sympathies and her work visa was terminated, forcing her to cancel the remainder of her engagements and return to France. She wasn’t allowed to return to the US for nearly a decade.

Josephine was shocked and infuriated by her remedy and by the blatant racism she noticed within the U.S., and he or she turned a civil rights activist, working with the NAACP, attending rallies, and talking out in assist of the trigger. In 1963, she spoke on the March on Washington alongside Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. At this rally, the place Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech, Josephine was the one official feminine speaker. She launched Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates amongst different Black girls combating for civil rights.

In her speech on the occasion, Josephine spoke concerning the distinction between her experiences within the U.S. and in France: “I’ve walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the homes of presidents, and way more. However I couldn’t stroll right into a lodge in America and get a cup of espresso, and that made me mad. And after I get mad, you understand that I open my huge mouth. After which look out ‘trigger when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it everywhere in the world.”

Josephine Baker appears in a Brazilian consular file during a visit to Brazil in 1952. From the MyHeritage historical record collections

Josephine Baker seems in a Brazilian consular file throughout a go to to Brazil in 1952. From the MyHeritage historic document collections

‘The Rainbow Tribe’

Throughout her work in civil rights activism, Josephine started adopting youngsters from completely different ethnicities, forming a household she referred to as “The Rainbow Tribe.” She wished to show to the world that individuals of various ethnicities and religions might nonetheless dwell collectively as siblings. Her youngsters have been from France, Morocco, Korea, Japan, Colombia, Finland, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, and Venezuela, and a few have been raised in numerous religions. She introduced her youngsters together with her on excursions, however once they have been collectively at her dwelling in Dordogne, she organized excursions so folks might come and see how pleased they have been collectively.

In her later years, Josephine suffered from some monetary issues and misplaced her properties. Princess Grace of Monaco — who had really been current and supported Josephine in the course of the Stork Membership incident years in the past — supplied her a spot to dwell together with her youngsters. In 1975, after a profitable opening to her comeback tour, she fell right into a coma and ultimately handed away.

Article from the St. Petersburg Times announcing Josephine’s death on April 13, 1975. From the MyHeritage Newspaper Name Index collection

Article from the St. Petersburg Instances saying Josephine’s loss of life on April 13, 1975. From the MyHeritage Newspaper Identify Index assortment

There is no such thing as a doubt that she lived a vibrant and extraordinary life, and was deeply dedicated to her adopted dwelling — France — in addition to the welfare of all of humankind. The Panthéon is all of the richer for including her legacy to the ranks of the French heroes and heroines it honors.

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