American-Born Artist Josephine Baker Will Be the First Black Woman to Enter France’s Pantheon

Josephine Baker will be the first Black woman in France’s Pantheon. The remains of the American-born performer will be reinterred at the Paris monument, which houses the remains of scientist Marie Curie, the French philosopher Voltaire and writer Victor Hugo.

Baker will be just the fifth woman to join the around 80 great national figures of French history in the Pantheon. Holocaust survivor Simone Veil was buried at the Pantheon in 2018. The other women are two who fought with the French Resistance during the Second World War – Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz – and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.

Although her body will remain in Monaco where she is buried, she will be honored with a memorial with a plaque.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided to organize a ceremony on Nov. 30 at the Paris monument.

She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 3, 1906. Josephine grew up cleaning houses and babysitting for wealthy white families. While it was unusual for a woman during her era, Josephine never depended on a man for financial support.

Josephine toured the US performing various comical skits. Onstage, she rolled her eyes and purposely acted clumsy. The audience loved her comedic touch. Her career thrived in the integrated Paris society.

She moved to France in 1925 as she was seeking to flee racism and segregation in the United States. She became a French citizen after her marriage to industrialist Jean Lion in 1937. During World War II, she joined the French Resistance.

Baker became famous for her theatrical performances, but she devoted her life to the idea that people of all nationalities can live peacefully together. She fought against fascism in Europe during World War II and racism in the United States.

After her death in 1975, Baker was buried in Monaco, dressed in a French military uniform with the medals she received for her role as part of the French Resistance during the war.

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