Josephine Baker honored at the French Pantheon

PARIS – Josephine Baker’s voice, speaking and singing, will ring Tuesday in front of the Pantheon in Paris, where she is symbolically honored – becoming the first Black woman to receive the high honor France’s most precious.

In August, French President Emmanuel Macron made the decision to honor a “special person” who “embodies the French spirit”, and made Baker the first US-born citizen and artist. The first performance was transformed into the immortal Pantheon. She will join scientist Marie Curie, philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French celebrities.

The move is a tribute to “a woman whose whole life was directed towards the pursuit of both freedom and justice”, Macron’s office said.

Baker has been praised not only for her world-renowned artistic career, but also for her active role in the French Resistance during World War II, her actions as a civil rights activist and her human values, which she demonstrated by adopting her 12 children. from all over the world.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker became a superstar during the 1930s, especially in France, where she moved in 1925 while looking to escape segregation and apartheid in the United States.

Black French scholar Pap Ndiaye, an expert on U.S. minority rights movements, told The Associated Press: “The simple fact of having a black woman walk into a church room is calendar. history.

“When she arrived, she was surprised for the first time as so many African-Americans settled in Paris at the same time … when there was no apartheid regime. There was no segregation … there was no discrimination. (Have) the ability to sit at a coffee shop and be served by a white waiter, the ability to talk to white people, (have) romance with white people,” Ndiaye said.

“That’s not to say racism doesn’t exist in France, but racism in France is often more subtle, not as brutal as other forms of racism in the US,” he added.

Baker was among a number of prominent black Americans, particularly artists and writers, who found refuge in France after the two World Wars, including the famous writer and intellectual James Baldwin.

They are “certainly aware of the French empire and the brutality of the French colonialists. But overall they are also living a better life than the one they left behind in the United States,” said Ndiaye, who also directs the industry. state-run immigration in France said. museum, told the Associated Press.

Baker quickly became famous with the banana skirt dance and made the audience present at the Paris theater hall to admire.

Ndiaye stressed that her performances were controversial because many anti-colonial activists believed she was “a colonial propagandist, singing the song the French wanted her to sing.”

Baker is well aware of “the stereotypes that black women face,” he said. “She also distances herself from these stereotypes with her facial expressions … a way for her to make fun of those who are viewing her in some way.”

“But don’t forget that when she came to France, she was 19, she was almost illiterate… She had to build her political and racial consciousness,” he said.

Baker became a French citizen after her marriage to industrialist Jean Lion in 1937. In the same year, she settled in southwestern France, in the castle of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

“Josephine Baker could be considered the first black superstar. She’s like the Rihanna of the 1920s,” said Rosemary Phillips, a Barbados-born performer and co-owner of Baker Park in southwestern France. , said.

Phillips said one of the women who grew up in the castle and met Baker said: “Can you imagine a black woman in the 1930s in a car driven by a driver – a white driver – spinning back and say, ` `I”. I want to buy 1,000 acres here?”‘

In 1938, Baker joined what is now known as LICRA, a prominent anti-apartheid coalition and a longtime supporter of her accession to the Pantheon.

The following year, she began working for French intelligence services against the Nazis, specifically gathering information from German officials whom she met at parties. She later joined the French Resistance, using her artistic activities as a cover for espionage during the Second World War.

In 1944, Baker became a second lieutenant in a group of girls in General Charles De Gaulle’s Air Force for the French Liberation Army.

After the war, she became involved in anti-apartheid politics. A civil rights activist, she was the only woman to speak in Washington in March 1963 to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Towards the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted from her home, and lost her property. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, the American-born actress, who offered Baker a place to stay for her and her children.

Tuesday’s ceremony has been prepared closely with her family, and several relatives will be present, Elysee said. A coffin carrying soil from the US, France and Monaco will be deposited inside the Pantheon. Her body will remain in Monaco at the request of the family.

Albert II, prince of Monaco and son of Grace, honored Baker as a “great lady” in a ceremony Monday at the cemetery where she is buried. Paraphrasing the French poet Louis Aragon, he said Baker was French “not by birth, but by taste.”


AP journalists Jamey Keaten and Arno Pedram in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, France, and Bishr Eltouni in Monaco contributed.


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