Josephine Baker (Courtesy of History of Yesterday)
Josephine Baker (Courtesy of History of Yesterday)

Legendary trailblazing performer Josephine Baker received one of the highest honors in France with her induction into the French Panthéon, the nation’s mausoleum of heroes, which includes Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Èmile Zola and Marie Curie.

Baker becomes the first Black woman inducted and the first performing artist. Born in St. Louis in 1906, Baker rose to stardom in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s as a performer noted for dancing with an infamous banana belt.

She made a career in Paris, a less segregated and more welcoming environment for Baker but maintained her connection to the U.S. She used her voice to be a civil rights activist for Black Americans, including being the only official female speaker at the March on Washington, standing at the side of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

She was also known for her work as a wartime hero, spy and humanitarian as she adopted 12 children from around the world. Baker died on Apr. 12, 1975, in Paris.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Nov. 30, during the ceremony at the Paris monument, that Baker “broke down barriers.”

“She became part of the hearts and minds of French people . . . Josephine Baker, you enter the Pantheon because while you were born American, deep down there was no one more French than you,” NPR reported.

Not only did Baker receive her long-overdue flowers in Paris but she was also honored at Art Basel in Miami, an international art fair, the first weekend in December.

Addonis Parker created a painting, “From Paris with Love,” in homage to Baker’s legacy. The collection premiering in Miami holds significance for Baker’s contributions to desegregating the city’s clubs in that period.

In 1951, Baker was offered $10,000 by the Copa City Club in Miami Beach but she refused to perform for segregated audiences. The Copa eventually met her demands. Her insistence on mixed audiences helped integrate live entertainment shows in Miami, Las Vegas and other cities throughout the U.S.

Parker’s painting can now be seen at the French Consulate in Miami.

“I admire Josephine Baker’s strength at such a young age and how she stayed focused on her mission during her life,” Parker said.

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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