Josephine Baker will be the first black woman immortalized at the Pantheon in France, Entertainment News

Joséphine Baker, the Franco-American dancer, singer and actress who fascinated France with performances mocking colonialism and then joined the French Resistance, will become the first black woman to be immortalized in the mausoleum of the Pantheon in France on Tuesday.

Baker will only be the sixth woman to join the 80 or so great national figures in French history in the secular temple on the left bank of Paris.

She will also be the first showbiz figure to be honored with a symbolic place in the secular sanctuary, the last resting place in a long list of luminaries from the political, cultural and scientific world, including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Marie Curie.

The “pantheonization” of the world‘s first black female superstar, who campaigned for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King, crowns years of campaigning by her family and a group of intellectuals to receive the rare posthumous honor.

French President Emmanuel Macron finally granted the request in August “because she is a woman born black and American in a closed society … who has become the embodiment of the values ​​of the Enlightenment of the French Republic throughout his life, ”his office explained this week. .

“She is a woman whose whole life has been devoted to the dual quest for freedom and justice,” added a presidential official.

“France made me” –

Born Freda Josephine McDonald in extreme poverty in Missouri in 1906, Baker left school at age 13.

After two failed marriages – she took Baker’s name from her second husband – she managed to find a place for herself in one of Broadway’s first all-black musicals in 1921.

Like many black American artists at the time, she moved to France to escape racial segregation in her country.

The woman nicknamed the “Black Venus” took Paris by storm with her exuberant dance performances, which captured the energy of the jazz era.

One of the defining moments of her career came when she danced the Charleston at the Folies-Bergère cabaret, wearing only a pearl necklace and a rubber banana skirt, in a sensational sendoff of colonial fantasies. about black women.

Singer and actress as well as dancer, she adopted France wholeheartedly, taking French nationality when she married the industrialist Jean Lion in 1937.

She will divorce and remarry twice more, adopting 12 children along the way.

At the start of World War II, she joined the French Resistance against Nazi Germany, becoming a lieutenant in the female auxiliary corps of the Free French Air Force.

She became a spy for exiled French warlord General Charles de Gaulle and used her interpersonal skills and contacts to gain information about the plans of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

“France made me who I am,” she said later. “The Parisians have given me everything … I am ready to give them my life.”

– ‘True anti-racist’ –

Throughout her life, she fought discrimination, adopting children of different ethnicities to form a “rainbow” family in her castle in southwestern France.

Pascal Bruckner, a novelist who campaigned for her to secure a coveted place under the famous dome of the Pantheon, said Baker “is the symbol of a France that is not racist”.

“Josephine Baker is a real anti-racist, a real anti-fascist,” he told AFP in an interview earlier this year.

Baker died on April 12, 1975, at the age of 68, of a cerebral hemorrhage, a few days after a last successful cabaret show in Paris celebrating her half-century on stage.

She is the second woman to be inducted by Macron into the Pantheon after former minister Simone Veil, who survived the Holocaust to fight for abortion rights and European unity.

The former mentor and predecessor of Macron, François Hollande, had refused calls to immortalize Baker in the old church, transformed into a temple of “great men” after the French Revolution. “He thought it was a stupid idea,” said one of Macron’s advisers.

A sign of the affection in which Baker is still being held in France, there has been no public criticism of the decision to honor him, including from far-right commentators who are generally scathing for anti-racist gestures. .

A symbolic tomb will be transported to the Pantheon by members of the French Air Force, a nod to its role in the Free French Air Force in wartime.

Baker’s remains, however, will remain in Monaco, where they are buried.

Comments are closed.