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  • Josephine Baker Sweetrocks Inspiring Woman

    Josephine Baker Inspiring Woman

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    Sweetrocks

    Josephine Baker Sweetrocks Inspiring Woman

    Josephine Baker born Freda Josephine McDonald, was an American-born French entertainer, French Resistance agent, and civil rights activist. Her career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adopted France. Baker was the first African-American to star in a major motion picture, the 1927 silent film Siren of the Tropics, directed by Mario Nalpas and Henri Étiévant.

    During her early career Baker was renowned as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline the revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation in Paris. Her costume, consisting of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace, became an iconic image and a symbol of the Jazz Age and the 1920s.

    Baker was celebrated by artists and intellectuals of the era, who variously dubbed her the “Black Venus”, the “Black Pearl”, the “Bronze Venus”, and the “Creole Goddess”. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to French industrialist Jean Lion in 1937. She raised her children in France. “I have two loves, my country and Paris”, Baker once said, and she sang: « J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris ».

    She was known for aiding the French Resistance during World War II After the war, she was awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

    Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States and is noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968, she was offered unofficial leadership in the movement in the United States by Coretta Scott King, following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. After thinking it over, Baker declined the offer out of concern for the welfare of her children.

    Although based in France, Baker supported the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. When she arrived in New York with her husband Jo, they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because of racial discrimination. She was so upset by this treatment that she wrote articles about segregation in the United States. She also began traveling into the South. She gave a talk at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, on “France, North Africa And The Equality Of The Races In France”.

    She refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States, although she was offered $10,000 by a Miami club. (The club eventually met her demands). Her insistence on mixed audiences helped to integrate live entertainment shows in Las Vegas, Nevada. After this incident, she began receiving threatening phone calls from people claiming to be from the Ku Klux Klan but said publicly that she was not afraid of them.

    In 1951, Baker made charges of racism against Sherman Billingsley’s Stork Club in Manhattan, where she had been refused service. Actress Grace Kelly, who was at the club at the time, rushed over to Baker, took her by the arm and stormed out with her entire party, vowing never to return (although she returned on 3 January 1956 with Prince Rainier of Monaco). The two women became close friends after the incident.

    Baker worked with the NAACP. Her reputation as a crusader grew to such an extent that the NAACP had Sunday, 20 May 1951 declared “Josephine Baker Day”. She was presented with life membership with the NAACP by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Ralph Bunche. The honor she was paid spurred her to further her crusading efforts with the “Save Willie McGee” rally after he was convicted of the 1948 beating death of a furniture shop owner in Trenton, New Jersey.As the decorated war hero who was bolstered by the racial equality she experienced in Europe, Baker became increasingly regarded as controversial; some black people even began to shun her, fearing that her outspokenness and racy reputation from her earlier years would hurt the cause.

    In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.Baker was the only official female speaker. While wearing her Free French uniform emblazoned with her medal of the Légion d’honneur, she introduced the “Negro Women for Civil Rights.” Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates were among those she acknowledged, and both gave brief speeches. Not everyone involved wanted Baker present at the March; some thought her time overseas had made her a woman of France, one who was disconnected from the Civil Rights issues going on in America. In her powerful speech, one of the things Baker notably said was:

    I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world …

    After King’s assassination, his widow Coretta Scott King approached Baker in the Netherlands to ask if she would take her husband’s place as leader of the Civil Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over, Baker declined, saying her children were “too young to lose their mother”.

    April 8,1975, Baker starred in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The revue, financed notably by Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, opened to rave reviews. Demand for seating was such that fold-out chairs had to be added to accommodate spectators. The opening night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

    Four days later, Baker was found lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by newspapers with glowing reviews of her performance. She was in a coma after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died, aged 68, April 12,1975.

    Thank you Josephine Baker (#JosephineBaker) for being an Inspiring Woman!

     

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