Joséphine Baker enters the French Pantheon of National Heroes

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The French dancer of American origin Joséphine Baker will be inducted into the Pantheon, an honor reserved for the national heroes of France, on November 30. This decision recognizes his courage in his active resistance to Nazi Germany during World War II.

Franco-American dancer and singer Joséphine Baker, a prominent figure in the French Resistance during World War II, will be inducted into the Pantheon on November 30, Le Parisien newspaper reported on Sunday, citing French President Emmanuel Macron.

“It’s a yes!” Macron said on July 21 at the Elysee Palace, according to the daily, after meeting with a group of Baker’s defenders, including essayist Laurent Kuperman and one of Baker’s sons, Brian. Baker broth.

The dancer and activist, born in Missouri in 1906 and buried in Monaco in 1975, will become the first black woman to be commemorated in the French national necropolis in central Paris. Only five women have so far been inducted into the Pantheon out of the 80 people honored there. Baker would join the ranks of Simon Veil, inducted in 2018, and Marie Curie.

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A petition to honor Baker at the Pantheon – Osez Joséphine (Dare with Josephine) – was launched by Kupferman on May 8, which is celebrated as Victory in Europe Day, and has collected nearly 38,000 signatures.

Baker “shouldn’t be inducted just because she was female or because she was black,” Kupferman said. “She should be inducted because of the acts of courage she has performed for the country.”

War messages hidden in her robe

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker rose to an international celebrity in the 1930s – especially in France, where she settled in 1925 and quickly dominated the country’s cabarets with her big smile, her sense of humor. humor and his vaporous clothes. In 1937, she married Jean Lion (born Lévy), captain of industry of Jewish origin.

Baker also became a French citizen and a patriot devoted to the country’s resistance against the nazi occupation during The Second World War. She was able to capitalize on her fame for the war effort: she hid secret messages in her clothes from officials too busy asking for autographs.

Baker also crushed embassy evenings to gather intelligence on German troop positions and donated the proceeds from his concerts to the French army. The Chateau des Milandes, where she lived, has become a resistance hotspot.

The idea of ​​Baker taking his place among the greats of France is not new. December 16, 2013 the writer Régis Debray insisted on this in an editorial in Le Monde.

“The proposal had been sent to [then president] François Hollande, but he did nothing, “says Brian Bouillon Baker, one of the artist’s adopted sons, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

Dubbed “the most French of all Americans,” Baker’s descendants say public interest and support for her induction grew.

“Many officials are asking us (Baker’s children) more and more to participate in the inauguration of schools, streets, squares and dance halls, all in his honor. International media are asking for interviews. even has three films in the making, including a biopic and a documentary, both with big budgets. We didn’t have all that admiration for her 30 years ago, “Bouillon Baker said.

According to Kupferman, this growing public interest is due, in part, to the fact that Baker’s activism is still relevant today. “She was a free and militant woman, feminist, resistant and militant against racism and anti-Semitism. In a world turned in on itself, where tribalism and racism are exacerbated, her ideals resonate in the hearts of the people.” , the author explained.

The singer became an outspoken anti-racist activist after confronting the American system of segregation. In 1963, she participated in the March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King. Dressed in her French war uniform, medals included, she was the only black woman to deliver a speech during what became the height of the civil rights movement.

During her stay in France, she became a lawyer at LICA, which would later become the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism in 1979.

“The Rainbow Tribe”

Well known in France for her song “I have two loves“(” I have two loves “), the singer has had many others: during her life, she adopted 12 children of different origins and religions, applying her humanitarian ideals to her own family, who ‘she often called “The Rainbow Tribe”.

“Our family was not just a utopia. Our mother wanted us to be different and united. And on that, she absolutely succeeded, because to this day we are just as connected to each other, ”said Bouillon Baker, who is now 64 years old.

While all of her children maintain that she obtains the honors of the Pantheon, they also agree on something else: they refuse to allow her mortal remains to leave the family’s burial place in the small Mediterranean principality of Monaco.

“Our mother is resting next to our father and one of their sons, also near [Princess] Grace of Monaco, whom she loved dearly and who helped her when she was ruined at the end of her life. It is therefore out of the question to move him, “said his son firmly.

The transfer of his remains is not compulsory enter the Pantheon. Instead, the Baker family suggested a simple cenotaph in his memory.

But what would Josephine Baker herself have thought of such an honor? According to Bouillon Baker, it would have been torn.

“She would have been very proud of such an honor from France, just as she was very proud to wear her military awards (including a Knight’s Medal of the Legion of Honor, a Croix de Guerre from World War II, a resistance medal and one Commemorative Medal for Volunteer Service in the War). But she would also be somewhat embarrassed by such an honor: she was neither an intellectual nor a political leader, but simply a woman of common sense, ”he said.

But Baker also faced his fair share of criticism in his day. She performed a dance number with a banana belt around the waist, inciting some to denounce it for having participated in a caricature of racist tropes.

But others have dismissed his criticisms.

“To say that it fuels racism is absurd; we must not watch this scene from the past with today’s glasses on. It is nothing but a wild Charleston, not a tribal dance,” he said. said Kupferman.

“These accusations are marginal; everywhere we talk about her, it is with benevolence, “said Bouillon Baker, adding that the audience’s response was made up” of expressions of sympathy, homage and gratitude for our mother. “


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