Who was Joséphine Baker?

Josephine Baker

Who was Joséphine Baker?  You may have seen a recent news story that she is going to be interred in the Panthéon, but didn’t know why this is a big deal.  It’s an interesting story and definitely something you may want to discuss in your French classes if you like to do current events. Joséphine Baker was a singer and musician who was born and raised in Missouri during a very bad time for African-Americans. 

She was talented and her parents were performers – but they didn’t want her to follow in their footsteps.  She got married for the first time at 13, divorced, and married again at 15.  She ran off to New York to pursue a singing career and eventually made her way to France. 

Baker became a very popular performer in France for both her dancing and singing talent.  She became a French citizen and helped to spy for the French forces during the second world war.  She later returned to the USA and became involved in the US civil rights movement – she was asked to take over after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, but turned down the offer because she was worried that if something happened to her, her adopted children would be left without a parent.  She had adopted 12 children and called them her “rainbow tribe.” 

There is much more to her life and it is definitely worth examining!  If you are interested in reading about her in your classes, I have a non-fiction reading for intermediate and advanced French – updated this morning to include the latest news!

Who was Joséphine Baker?

Josephine Baker in the news

This morning, it was announced that Baker would be interred in the Panthéon on November 30, 2021.  This is a HUGE honor, and Baker will be the first Black woman to be interred there, and only the 6th woman overall.  The Panthéon is reserved for the heroes and heroines of France and the President of France makes the final decision about who will be added. 

A petition was presented to Macron asking for Baker to be considered, and he granted the request – not for her career as a performer, but her work as a member of the resistance.  She has already been awarded the Croix de Guerre and was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.  She was originally buried in Monaco after her death in 1975, wearing her military uniform and medals.

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