Home France Josephine Baker becomes first black woman to be granted a tomb at the Pantheon in Paris #englishheadline #Josephine #Baker #black #woman #granted #tomb #Pantheon #Paris

Josephine Baker becomes first black woman to be granted a tomb at the Pantheon in Paris #englishheadline #Josephine #Baker #black #woman #granted #tomb #Pantheon #Paris

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Josephine Baker, a Missouri born-exotic dancer, activist, and French Resistance member, has become the first black woman to be granted a tomb in the Pantheon in Paris.

Baker, who died in 1975, was awarded one of France‘s highest honors on Tuesday where her coffin was taken into the monument joining 80 other highly-regarded French figures, with only five of them being women including scientist Marie Curie and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil. 

A ceremony with 2,000 guests, with nine of her children in attendance, was held for Baker on the Paris streets outside of the Pantheon complete with her old recordings, an orchestra, and a children’s choir singing one of her classic songs.

Her decorated coffin – draped in the country’s tri-colored flag and filled with soils from the US, Monaco, and France – was carried into the monument by members of the French Air Force.

Baker remains buried in Monaco, but the casket has been filled with earth from locations that had significant meaning to the late singer.  

Another military officer carried her decorated awards which included the World War II Resistance medal and the Knight of the Legion of Honor.

Her body remains buried in Monaco, however, at the request of Baker’s family. 

Members of the French Air Force carry a cenotaph containing soils from the US, France, and Monaco where Josephine Baker lived to the Pantheon in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the ceremony to honor Baker

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the ceremony to honor Baker

US-born Josephine Baker was highly regarded in France and was remembered as an exotic dancer, civil rights activist, and a French Resistance member during World War II

US-born Josephine Baker was highly regarded in France and was remembered as an exotic dancer, civil rights activist, and a French Resistance member during World War II

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute at the ceremony to ‘a war hero, fighter, dancer, singer; a black woman defending Black people but first of all, a woman defending humankind. American and French. Josephine Baker fought so many battles with lightness, freedom, joy.’ 

‘Josephine Baker, you are entering into the Pantheon because, (despite being) born American, there is no greater French (woman) than you,’ Macron said. 

Baker was only praised 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 humanist values, which she displayed through the adoption of her 12 children from all over the world. Nine of them attended Tuesday’s ceremony among the 2,000 guests.   

‘Mum would have been very happy,’ Akio Bouillon, Baker’s son, said after the ceremony. 

‘Mum would not have accepted to enter into the Pantheon if that was not as the symbol of all the forgotten people of history, the minorities.’

Baker's coffin was carried through the Paris streets as her old recordings played complete with an orchestra and a children's choir singing one of her songs

Baker’s coffin was carried through the Paris streets as her old recordings played complete with an orchestra and a children’s choir singing one of her songs

Six carries from the Air Force carry Baker's cenotaph which is decorated with the French tri-color flag

Six carries from the Air Force carry Baker’s cenotaph which is decorated with the French tri-color flag

Baker joins 80 other highly regarded French figures, including only five other women, and holds the honor of being the first Black woman to hold a place at the Pantheon

Baker joins 80 other highly regarded French figures, including only five other women, and holds the honor of being the first Black woman to hold a place at the Pantheon

Bouillon added that what moved him the most were the people who gathered along the street in front of the Pantheon to watch.

‘They were her public, people who really loved her,’ he said.  

The tribute ceremony started with Baker’s song Me revoilà Paris (Paris, I’m Back). The French army choir sang the French Resistance song, prompting strong applause from the public. 

Her signature song J’ai deux amours (Two Loves) was then played by an orchestra accompanying Baker’s voice on the Pantheon plaza.

During a light show displayed on the monument, Baker could be heard saying ‘I think I am a person who has been adopted by France. It especially developed my humanist values, and that’s the most important thing in my life.’

The homage included Martin Luther King’s famed ‘I have a dream’ speech. Baker was the only woman to speak before him at the 1963 March on Washington where he made the iconic remarks.  

Baker strikes a pose during her Ziegfeld Follies performance of The Conga at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York in 1936

Baker strikes a pose during her Ziegfeld Follies performance of The Conga at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York in 1936

Baker is seen after her performance at the Dagmar Teatret (Theatre) in Copenhagen in 1932

Baker is seen after her performance at the Dagmar Teatret (Theatre) in Copenhagen in 1932

Baker performs for troops at the British Leave Club at the Hotel Moderne in Paris in May 1940

Baker performs for troops at the British Leave Club at the Hotel Moderne in Paris in May 1940

Baker had become a megastar in France after fleeing the US due to segregation and racism

Baker had become a megastar in France after fleeing the US due to segregation and racism

Baker poses on a tiger rug in 1925 wearing a silk dress and diamond earrings

Baker poses on a tiger rug in 1925 wearing a silk dress and diamond earrings 

Baker performs in her last concert at the Bobino Theater in Paris in 1975

Baker performs in her last concert at the Bobino Theater in Paris in 1975

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker became a megastar in the 1930s, especially in France, where she moved in 1925 as she sought to flee racism and segregation in the United States.

‘The simple fact to have a Black woman entering the pantheon is historic,’ Black French scholar Pap Ndiaye, an expert on U.S. minority rights movements, told The Associated Press.

‘When she arrived, she was first surprised like so many African Americans who settled in Paris at the same time … at the absence of institutional racism,’ he said. 

‘There was no segregation … no lynching. (There was) the possibility to sit at a cafe and be served by a white waiter, the possibility to talk to white people, to (have a) romance with white people.

‘It does not mean that racism did not exist in France. But French racism has often been more subtle, not as brutal as the American forms of racism.’

Baker was among several prominent black Americans, especially artists and writers, who found refuge in France after the two World Wars, including famed writer and intellectual James Baldwin.

Baker (right) is seen volunteering for the Free French Women's Air Auxiliary in 1940

Baker (right) is seen volunteering for the Free French Women’s Air Auxiliary in 1940 

Baker is seen aboard the French liner Liberte upon her arrival in the New York City harbor in 1950

Baker is seen aboard the French liner Liberte upon her arrival in the New York City harbor in 1950

Baker in her apartment at the Hotel Forresta near Stockholm in 1957 with three of her children Marianne (left), Koffi (center) and Brahim (right)

Baker in her apartment at the Hotel Forresta near Stockholm in 1957 with three of her children Marianne (left), Koffi (center) and Brahim (right)

Baker is seen receiving the Legions of Honor and the Croix de Guerre in 1961

Baker is seen receiving the Legions of Honor and the Croix de Guerre in 1961

Baker is seen saluting during the 1961 ceremony after receiving the honor

Baker is seen saluting during the 1961 ceremony after receiving the honor

They were ‘aware of the French empire and the brutalities of French colonization, for sure. But they were also having a better life overall than the one they had left behind in the United States,’ Ndiaye added. 

Baker quickly became famous for her banana-skirt dance routines and wowed audiences at Paris theater halls. 

Her shows were controversial, Ndiaye stressed, because many activists believed she was ‘the propaganda for colonization, singing the song that the French wanted her to sing.’

Baker knew well about ‘the stereotypes that black women had to face,’ he said. ‘She also distanced herself from these stereotypes with her facial expressions.’

‘But let’s not forget that when she arrived in France she was only 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. The same year, she settled in southwestern France, in the castle of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

‘Josephine Baker can be considered to be the first black superstar. She’s like the Rihanna of the 1920s,’ said Rosemary Phillips, a Barbados-born performer and co-owner of Baker’s park in southwestern France.

Phillips said one of the ladies who grew up in the castle and met with Baker said: ‘Can you imagine a black woman in the 1930s in a chauffeur-driven car — a white chauffeur — who turns up and says, ‘I’d like to buy the 1,000 acres here?’

A crowd surrounds the coffin of Baker on April 15, 1975 as she carried to her funeral at the La Madeleine church in Paris

A crowd surrounds the coffin of Baker on April 15, 1975 as she carried to her funeral at the La Madeleine church in Paris 

Prince Albert of Monaco and one of Baker's sons Jeannot Bouillon-Baker gather at her grave during a tribute in Monaco on Monday

Prince Albert of Monaco and one of Baker’s sons Jeannot Bouillon-Baker gather at her grave during a tribute in Monaco on Monday

In 1938, Baker joined what is today called LICRA, a prominent antiracist league. 

The next year, she started to work for France’s counter-intelligence services against Nazis, notably collecting information from German officials who she met at parties.

She then joined the French Resistance, using her performances as a cover for spying activities during World War II.

In 1944, Baker became second-lieutenant in a female group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army of Gen. Charles De Gaulle.

After the war, she got involved in anti-racist politics and the civil rights struggle, both in France and in the United States.

Toward the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her properties. 

She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live. Baker died of a brain hemorrhage in Paris in 1975 at age 68.      



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