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

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

History is being madetoday: American-born French entertainer, war hero, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker will be the first-ever Black woman to be honored at the Panthéon mausoleum in Paris. She joins the ranks of almost 80 celebrated French heroes, including double Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie and iconic writer Victor Hugo.

Josephine Baker was an extraordinary performer who used her talents and success to combat hate and injustice. Though she will remain in her final resting place in Monaco, a casket of earth from the U.S., France, and Monaco — the 3 places she once called home — will be placed in the famous mausoleum along with a plaque honoring her.

Rags to riches

Josephine was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906, to a single mother who struggled to clothe 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 living with her stepfather Arthur Martin and mother Carrie in the 1910 U.S. Census on MyHeritage (Click to enlarge)

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

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

At only 8 years of age, Josephine began working as a live-in domestic for white families. She dropped out of school at age 12 and at 13 was working as a waitress and a street-corner dancer to make a living. She got married at age 13, but divorced less than a year later. Her second marriage at age 15 was to William Howard Baker, and though she left him and they divorced in 1925, she kept using his name 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 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 knew she was destined for greater things and at age 13 she convinced a show manager to recruit her for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show. But her real first big break came when she sailed to Paris at age 19 and opened inLa Revue Nègre以及Théâtre des Champs-Élysées。作为一名情色舞者,她在那里一举成名,穿着人造香蕉裙和串珠项链亮相。虽然她在法国很受欢迎,但在法国却不怎么受欢迎,她最终放弃了美国公民身份,转而成为法国公民。

See Josephine performher first song “J’ai deux amours”:

While her accomplishments in the entertainment industry are admirable, her nerve and daring extended far beyond the stage. And when the shadow of World War II fell over her beloved adopted home, Josephine wasn’t going to stand by idly.

Resisting the Nazis

In September 1939, Josephine joined the Deuxième Bureau, the French military intelligence agency. As an “honorable correspondent,” she socialized with Germans at embassies, night clubs, and social events, exercising her fame and personal charm to secretly gather information for the French.

在MyHeritage的《埃利斯岛乘客名单和其他纽约名单》(1820-1857)中提到的约瑟芬(Josephine)。

在MyHeritage的《埃利斯岛乘客名单和其他纽约名单》(1820-1857)中提到的约瑟芬(Josephine)。

After the Germans invaded France, Josephine refused to perform for them. She left Paris and housed members of the Free French effort in her home in Dordogne, supplying them with visas. She leveraged her status as an entertainer to move freely around Europe and South America and transmit information to the Allies about German airfields, harbors, and troops in western France, using notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music. She even pinned notes with gathered intelligence in her underwear, relying on her celebrity status to avoid a strip search. She also raised funds for the resistance, sometimes contributing from her own fortune.

Josephine was awarded a number of military honors for her work during the war, including the Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance, the Commemorative medal for voluntary service in Free France, and the Resistance medal. She was also “knighted” as a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

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

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

Fighting racial inequality

After the war, Josephine’s career reached new heights, and in 1951 she was invited back to the United States. The tour started out spectacularly, with rave reviews and enthusiastic fans — but was interrupted by an incident in the Stork Club in Manhattan. Despite her stardom, she was refused service at the club. Josephine — who all along had been refusing to perform in segregated venues — criticized the club and accused them of racism. In the aftermath, she was accused of Communist sympathies and her work visa was terminated, forcing her to cancel the rest of her engagements and go back to France. She wasn’t allowed to return to the United States for almost a decade.

Josephine was shocked and infuriated by her treatment and by the blatant racism she saw in the U.S., and she became a civil rights activist, working with the NAACP, attending rallies, and speaking out in support of the cause. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington alongside Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. At this rally, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Josephine was the only official female speaker. She introduced Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates among other Black women fighting for civil rights.

在她的演讲中,约瑟芬谈到了她在美国和法国的经历的对比:“我走进过国王、王后的宫殿、总统的房子,还有更多。但在美国,我不能走进一家酒店,喝杯咖啡,这让我很生气。当我生气的时候,你知道我就会大嘴巴。然后当心,因为一旦约瑟芬开口,全世界都能听到。”

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

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

‘The Rainbow Tribe’

在她从事民权活动期间,约瑟芬开始收养不同种族的孩子,组建了一个她称之为“彩虹部落”的家庭。世界杯东道主2022她想向世界证明,不同种族和宗教的人仍然可以像兄弟姐妹一样生活在一起。她的孩子来自法国、摩洛哥、韩国、日本、哥伦比亚、芬兰、阿尔及利亚、科特迪瓦和委内瑞拉,有些孩子在不同的宗教环境中长大。她带着孩子们去旅游,但当孩子们一起在多尔多涅的家中时,她会安排参观,这样人们就可以来看看他们在一起是多么快乐。

In her later years, Josephine suffered from some financial problems and lost her properties. Princess Grace of Monaco — who had actually been present and supported Josephine during the Stork Club incident years ago — offered her a place to live with her children. In 1975, after a successful opening to her comeback tour, she fell into a coma and eventually passed 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 Times announcing Josephine’s death on April 13, 1975. From the MyHeritage Newspaper Name Index collection

There is no doubt that she lived a vibrant and extraordinary life, and was deeply committed to her adopted home — France — as well as the welfare of all of humankind. The Panthéon is all the richer for adding her legacy to the ranks of the French heroes and heroines it honors.

如果你有任何法国的遗产,MyHeritage是一个研究它的地方:我们最近增加了数百万来自法国的历史记录!2022年世界杯预赛赛程Clickhereto search the French collections on MyHeritage.

Comments

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  • DF

    Diane Farrington

    January 4, 2022

    We were lucky enough to visit Josephine Bakers Chateau in France. What a beautiful place for an amazing woman. Xxx

  • MR

    Monica Reissland

    January 13, 2022

    She’s certainly one of my S/Heroes!
    作为一名黑人军官,有必要在美国歧视女性和种族主义政策的冲突中翱翔,不幸的是,这些政策至今仍在继续!
    Bravo, Seour ♡Josephine!! ¡¡¡A bientot!!!