The variety artist that seduced all Paris is honored and recognized, the 30 November 2021, by making her entrance at Panthéon. However it’s as a resistance and anti-racist that her memory will be celebrated this time.
Joséphine Baker (1906 – 1975) started her French career at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, then owned by the Swede, Rolf de Maré. The Swedish Ballet in Paris (1920 – 1925) had just been dismantled and was thus replaced by this american variety artist who danced in her famous banana-skirt.
Stepping off the train in Paris, she was ready for a new life, after experiencing a difficult childhood and two failed marriages in the USA. The artist, singer, dancer and eventually actress, rapidly became one of the parisians favourite artists.
After having married a frenchman, Joséphine became a French citizen in 1937. She decided to defintely making France her country of adoption after having returned to the USA only to find out that she was still considered as a second-rate citizen because of her skin colour.
She married four times but didn’t get any children of her own. Instead she created her own family by adopting twelve children of differing backgrounds, colour and culture. Her “rainbow family” was part of an attemt to combat racism.
During WWII, she became known for her skill of infiltrating the enemy lines, thanks to her status as a famous artist. Risking her own life, she smuggled out secret documents, hidden in her bra for Free France. In her partitions, she noted information written in invisible ink, that were sent to London. She traveled extensively around the world: to Lissabon – a spy nest – to Spain, Algeria and Marocco among others. She was invited everywhere, to all festivities.
– It’s so practictal to be Joséphine Baker, where ever I arrive, I’m just taken to parties!
She listened, flirted with important men, and then wrote down whatever was significant for the resistance to know about. Her disguise was perfect. After the war, she was distinguished with the Légion d’Honneur.
The newspaper, Le Parisien, announced these news, the 22 August 2021. It was part of President Macron’s promise of the “réconciliation” – reconciliation – that has also led to the restitution of some African artifacts to their countries. Macron, to honor this exceptional woman and to show his anti-racist stand, is now making Joséphine Baker’s legacy eternal, by letting her rest in the Panthéon.
It’s also a strong message to the extremists, just five months before the next presidential elections, according to the newspaper Le Télégramme (16 November 2021). During the March, alongside Martin Luther King, she honored France by wearing her French soldier’s uniform with all her medals.
– In France, I’ve never been afraid. There I’m considered a person and not a ‘colour’.
Her combat thus continues after her death.
Anne Edelstam, Paris.