FORUM

  • Hilary Northcraft

THE FRENCH PANTHÉON HONORS JOSEPHINE BAKER

On November 30th, Josephine Baker, the former actress, dancer, singer, and passionate member of the civil rights movement, will become the first Black woman to be interred at the Panthéon in Paris, France. Born in 1906 in Missouri, Baker moved to France in the mid-1920s after experiencing traumatic racial events in her childhood and personal discrimination at the start of her career.


“I just couldn’t stand America, and I was one of the first colored Americans to move to Paris,” she once told The Guardian.


In Paris, she first danced at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in La Revue Nègre, eventually going on to become one of the most popular music-hall entertainers in France and achieving star billing at the infamous Folies-Bergère. Receiving over 1,000 marriage proposals throughout her early career days, Baker married a Frenchman named Jean Lion in 1937, allowing her to become a French citizen.


Josephine Baker died in 1975, after suffering a stroke just four days after opening a new revue celebrating her fifty years as an entertainer. More than twenty thousand people gathered at her memorial in Monaco. She became the first American woman in history to be buried in France with military honors, including a 21-gun salute for her role as a member of the French resistance during WWII.


Her body will remain in Monaco, but she will be given a memorial in the Panthéon’s mausoleum. Of the eighty luminaries in the Panthéon, only five are women, Baker will be the sixth. Read more about her upcoming interment in The New York Times.



Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston, credit Walery.