Wednesday, January 19, 2022

In the French Pantheon, Josephine Baker Makes History Again

France has added Josephine Baker – Missouri-born cabaret dancer, French World War II spy and civil rights activist – to its pantheon, as the first black woman honored at the final resting place of France’s most iconic veterans.

On Tuesday, a coffin carrying clay from the US, France and Monaco – the places where Baker made his mark – will be deposited inside the domed Pantheon monument on the Left Bank of Paris. His body will remain in Monaco at the request of his family.

French President Emmanuel Macron, responding to a petition, decided on his entry into the Pantheon. In addition to honoring an extraordinary figure in French history, the move is meant to send a message against racism and celebrate the US-French connection.

“She is a symbol of women’s freedom, before anything else,” Laurent Kupferman, the author of the petition for the move, told the Associated Press.

Baker was born in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of 19, having already been divorced twice, having relationships with men and women, and starting a performing career, she moved to France after a job opportunity.

“She comes to France in 1925, she is a free woman, taking her life into her own hands, in a country she doesn’t even speak the language,” Kupferman said.

She found immediate success on the stage of the Théâtre des Champs-lysées, where she appeared topless and wearing a famous banana belt. Her shows, which embodied the racist stereotypes of colonial times about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.

“She was kind of a fantasy: not the black body of an American woman but of an African woman,” Opélie Lachaux, spokeswoman for the Théâtre des Champs-lysées, told the AP. “And that’s why they asked Josephine to dance something like ‘Aboriginal,’ ‘Barbarian,’ ‘African.

Baker’s career then took a more serious turn, as she learned to speak five languages ​​and toured internationally. She became a French citizen in 1937 after marrying industrialist Jean Lyon, a Jewish man who later suffered from the anti-Semitic laws of the Allied Vichy regime.

In September 1939, as France and Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Baker came into contact with the head of the French counterintelligence services. According to the French military archives, she began working as an informant, traveling, getting closer to the authorities and sharing information hidden on her music sheets.

Researcher and historian Geraud Letang said that Baker “lived a double life between intelligence agents, on the one hand, music hall performers, and on the other, another secret life, which later became completely illegal.”

After the defeat of France in June 1940, he refused to play for the Nazis, who captured Paris and moved to southwestern France. She continued to work for the French Resistance, using her artistic display as a cover for her espionage activities.

That year, she brought several spies working specifically for the Allies into her circle, allowing her to travel to Spain and Portugal. “She risks the death penalty or, at least, the harsh repression of the Vichy regime or the Nazi occupiers,” Letang said.

The next year, seriously ill, Baker left France for North Africa, where she collected intelligence for General Charles de Gaulle, including spying on the British and Americans – who did not fully trust her. And did not share all the information.

He also raised money including his personal wealth. It is estimated that he brought in the equivalent of 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to support the French resistance.

In 1944, Becker joined a women’s group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army as a second lieutenant. The group’s logbook specifically mentions an incident in 1944 off the coast of Corsica, when Senegalese soldiers from colonial troops fighting in the French Liberation Army helped rescue Baker out of the sea. After her plane made an emergency landing, they “brought the ship to shore, on their large shoulders, Josephine Baker in front,” the logbook writes.

Baker also organized concerts for soldiers and civilians near war zones. After the defeat of the Nazis, she went to Germany to sing for former prisoners and exiles freed from the camps.

“Baker’s involvement in politics was personal and unusual,” said Beneta Jules-Rosette, a leading scholar on Baker’s life and a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

After the war, Baker became involved in anti-racist politics. During the 1951 US demonstration tour, he fought against American secession, which led to him being targeted by the FBI, labeled a communist, and banned from his homeland for a decade. The ban was lifted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and she became the only woman to speak at the March in Washington before Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Back in France, she adopted 12 children from around the world, creating a “rainbow tribe” to embody her ideal of “universal fraternity.” He bought a castle and land in the southwestern French city of Castellanad-la-Chapelle, where he tried to build a city embodying his values.

“My mom saw the success of the Rainbow Tribe because when we caused trouble as kids, she never knew who did it because we never attacked each other by risking collective punishment. did,” Brian Boulone Baker, one of Baker’s sons, told the AP. “I heard him say to some friends ‘I’m crazy not to know who causes trouble, but I’m happy and proud that my kids are united.'”

Towards the end of her life, she fell into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her property. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live.

She rebuilt her career but in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of the comeback tour, she fell into a coma and died of a brain hemorrhage. He was buried in Monaco.

While Baker is widely praised in France, some critics of Macron questioned why she cast an American-born man as the first black woman in the Pantheon, rather than someone who rose up against racism and colonialism in France. Chosen.

The Pantheon, built in the late 18th century, honors 72 men and five women, including Baker. She is joined by two other black figures in the tomb: Gaullist resister Felix Abou and famed writer Alexandre Dumas.

“These are people who have committed themselves, especially to others,” Pantheon administrator David Madek told the AP. “It’s not just excellence in merit, it’s really a question of commitment, commitment to others.”


This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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