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Josephine Baker enters the Shrine of the National Heroes of France

Entertainer, civil rights activist and spy: Josephine Baker will on Tuesday night become the first black woman to be memorialized at the Pantheon in Paris – an honor bestowed only by the president of France. National hero.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is hoping to secure his second presidential term in an election in less than five months, will lead the nationally televised ceremony, which will “recheck different aspects of [Josephine Baker’s] life as an artist, a resistance fighter, an activist and a mother”. She will join the likes of Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and Voltaire.

In the statement decision announcement in August, the Elysée said Baker “embodies the French spirit” and “deserves the recognition of his homeland”.

At her family’s request, Baker’s remains will remain in Monaco, where she was buried in 1975, while she will be memorialized in an earthen stela from the US, France and Monaco in the Pantheon. She will be the only sixth woman to be “dressed up”.

Politicians, organizations and fans have for years campaigned to include Baker in the Pantheon, with a recent petition by essayist Laurent Kupferman reviving the debate.

But many also see the moment she stepped into France’s great halls as a timely political move by Macron and an attempt to reconcile the country at a time of fierce controversy over immigration, the country’s colonial past. France and feminism.

Baker, born into poverty in St Louis, Missouri in 1906, was one of a number of black American artists and writers, including author James Baldwin and jazz musician Miles Davis, looking for a place to live. hiding from the racism of Americans in France.

In an interview with the Guardian in 1974, less than a year before her death, she said: “I first became famous in France in my twenties. I can’t stand America and I was one of the first black Americans to move to Paris.”

The story came to France to escape American racism, but also became famous in Paris once performing with just a beaded necklace and a man-made banana dress, making Baker an iconic icon. controversial among some people even though she is very famous.

A dancer and entertainer, the first black woman to star in a major film in 1927, Baker continued to campaign for civil rights with Martin Luther King and was seen as a spy for the movement. French resistance, where she put hidden messages in her paper. Music.

She renounced her American citizenship in 1937, bought a castle in the south of France, and adopted 12 children from different countries.

The committee that supported Baker’s propaganda work, which included her son Brian Bouillon-Baker and others, told AFP: “We honor her commitment to republican values ,” recalls that she said of France: “Here they took me for a person and they didn’t see me as a color”.

Additional reporting by Domitille Alain in Paris

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