Josephine Baker to be First Black Woman in France’s Pantheon

Josephine Baker to be First Black Woman in France’s Pantheon

Josephine Baker, the famed French American dancer, singer and actress who fought in the French resistance during WWII and later battled racism, will later this year become the first Black woman to enter France’s Pantheon mausoleum.

Baker will be the sixth woman to join about 80 great national figures of French history in the Pantheon after Simone Veil, a former French minister who survived the Holocaust and fought for abortion rights, entered in 2018.

Baker will be honoured on November 30 with a memorial plaque, one of her children, Claude Bouillon-Baker, told AFP.

“Pantheonisation is built over a long period of time,” an aide to President Emmanuel Macron told AFP on Sunday, confirming a report in the Le Parisien newspaper.

Jennifer Guesdon, part of a group campaigning for Baker’s induction that includes one of her sons, said they met with Macron on July 21.

“When the president said yes, (it was a) great joy,” she said.

The Baker family has been requesting her induction since 2013, with a petition gathering about 38,000 signatures.

“She was an artist, the first Black international star, a muse of the cubists, a resistance fighter during WWII in the French army, active alongside Martin Luther King in the civil rights fight,” the petition says.

The campaign has “made people discover the undertakings of Josephine Baker, who was only known to some as an international star, a great artist,” Guesdon said.

But “she belongs in the Pantheon because she was a resistance fighter,” she added.

From Missouri to Paris

Baker, who was born in Missouri in 1906 and buried in Monaco in 1975, came from a poor background and was married twice by the age of 15. She ran away from home to join a vaudeville troupe.

She quickly caught the eye of a producer who sent her to Paris, where at the age of 19 she became the star of the hugely popular “La Revue Negre,” which helped popularize jazz and African American culture in France.

She became the highest-paid performer in the Paris music hall scene during the 1920s.

On November 30, 1937, she married Jean Lion, allowing her to get French nationality. She would go on to divorce him and remarry twice more, adopting 12 children along the way.

In 1939, she joined the French resistance, passing on information written on her musical scores.

She later went on a mission to Morocco, toured the resistance movement and was appointed a lieutenant in the French air force’s female auxiliary corps.

She was awarded the Croix de Guerre, a Resistance Medal, and was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

“I only had one thing in mind … to help France,” she told INA archives.

The Pantheon is a memorial complex for the legendary national figures in France’s history from politics, culture and science.

Only the president can decide on moving personalities to the former church, whose grand columns and domed roof was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.


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