PARIS: Joséphine Baker, the famous Franco-American dancer, singer and actress who fought in the French resistance during World War II and later fought against racism, will become the first black woman to enter the Pantheon mausoleum in France .
The remains of Baker, born in the United States, will be buried in the sacred Parisian monument on November 30, an adviser to President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, confirming information from Le Parisien newspaper.
“Pantheonization is built over a long period of time,” said the assistant.
Baker will become only the sixth woman to join the 80 or so great national figures in French history at the Pantheon after Simone Veil, a former French minister who survived the Holocaust and fought for the right to abortion, entered in 2018.
Jennifer Guesdon, a member of a group campaigning for Baker’s induction that includes one of the dancer’s sons, said she met Macron on July 21.
Joséphine Baker will become the sixth woman to join the 80 or so great figures in French history at the monument
“When the president said yes, (it was a) great joy,” she said. “It’s a yes!” Macron said after the July meeting, Le Parisien reported.
The Baker family has been asking for his induction since 2013, with a petition gathering around 38,000 signatures.
“She was an artist, the first black international star, a muse of the Cubists, a resistance fighter during World War II in the French army, active alongside Martin Luther King in the struggle for civil rights,” the petition indicates.
The campaign “introduced the businesses of Josephine Baker, who was only known to some as an international star, a great artist,” said Guesdon.
But “she belongs to the Pantheon because she was a resistance fighter,” she added.
From Missouri to Paris
Baker, born in Missouri in 1906 and buried in Monaco in 1975, comes from a poor background and married twice at the age of 15. She then ran away from home to join a vaudeville troupe.
She quickly attracted the attention of a producer who sent her to Paris where at 19 she became the star of the very popular “La Revue Nègre”, which helped popularize jazz and Afro-American culture in France.
She became the highest paid performer on the Parisian music hall scene during the Roaring Twenties.
On November 30, 1937, she married Jean Lion, which allowed her to obtain French nationality. She would divorce him and remarry twice more, adopting 12 children along the way.
In 1939, she joined the French resistance movement, transmitting written information on her musical scores.
She then went on a mission to Morocco and toured the resistance movement, being appointed lieutenant in the female auxiliary corps of the French air force.
She received the Croix de Guerre, a medal of the Resistance, and was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
“I had only one idea in mind … to help France”, she confides in the archives of Ina.
Another member of the campaign group, Pascal Bruckner, said Baker “is the symbol of a France which is not racist, contrary to what some media groups say”.
“Josephine Baker is a real anti-racist, a real anti-fascist,” said Bruckner.
Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tweeted that Baker was “a valiant and generous woman”, adding that “we owe her this honor”.
The Pantheon is a memorial complex of legendary national figures in French history from the political, cultural and scientific world.
Only the president can decide to move personalities in the old church, whose large columns and domed roof were inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.
Posted in Dawn, 23 August 2021