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Josephine Baker inducted in the French Pantheon: France pays a tribute to a free and activist woman

01 dezembro 2021 Cultura
Vista 561 vezes

“My France is Josephine.” This is what French president Macron said to conclude his praise of Josephine Baker, music-hall artist, member of the French resistance, and anti-racism activist born American and French citizen, who entered the French Pantheon on Tuesday 30 November. Before anything and throughout her life, she was a free and committed woman, and she is now in the Pantheon.

“My France is Josephine.” This is what French president Macron said to conclude his praise of Josephine Baker, music-hall artist, member of the French resistance, and anti-racism activist born American and French citizen, who entered the French Pantheon on Tuesday 30 November. Before anything and throughout her life, she was a free and committed woman, and she is now in the Pantheon.

 

Josephine Baker is thus the 77th personality and 5th woman to enter the Pantheon, the Parisian monument that honours the French personalities that marked the History of France, since the French Revolution. Major philosophers and writers, such as Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, but also political figures such as Jean Jaurès et Jean Moulin, and scientists such as Pierre and Marie Curie rest there. It’s Josephine Baker’s turn to “enter our Pantheon because she loved France and showed her a path that was truly her own”, in the words of President Macron.

 

 

 

Fight for freedom

 

It was indeed on the decision of President Macron that Josephine Baker was honoured in a moving ceremony at the Pantheon. Through the destiny of Josephine Baker, explains the French government, “France distinguishes an exceptional personality, born American, who chose, in the name of the fight she led all her life for freedom and empowerment, the eternal France of universal enlightenment”.

Josephine Baker, a world-renowned music-hall artist in the 1920s, a member of the Resistance and then an anti-racism activist, took part in “all the battles uniting citizens of good intentions, in France and throughout the world”. For all these reasons, and “because she is the embodiment of the French spirit, Josephine Baker, who died in 1975, deserves today the recognition of her country”.

 

An extraordinary career

 

More precisely, at the start of World War II, Joséphine Baker remained faithful to France, her country of adoption. As her biographical note points out, she joined the French Resistance as an agent for the Free France secret service. Her missions: “to pass on confidential information, for example by concealing it in her musical scores”.  She also organised tours to support French, British and American soldiers at the front. She then joined the women’s air force and was appointed second lieutenant. She was awarded the Légion d’honneur, the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance française.

Another struggle forged Josephine Baker’s life: her fight against racism. After the war, she became involved with the International League Against Racism and denounced the segregation in the United States. In 1963, she even joined Martin Luther King on the March on Washington for Labour and Freedom, and spoke in front of a huge crowd, dressed for the occasion in her uniform with her war and Resistance medals pinned on.

 

A universal cause

 

Before that, in 1947, she had married a French musician with whom she lived on the Milandes estate in the Dordogne region, where she lived until 1969. There she tried to realise “her humanist ideal by adopting twelve children of all origins”, whom she called her “rainbow tribe”, which for the French President was “the most beautiful of humanist manifestos”, an “epiphany of the universalism in which she believed so much”. For her cause was “universalism, the unity of the human race, the equality of all, before the identity of each individual”. 

Josephine Baker’s body, however, will remain in Monaco where she lies in the marine cemetery, in accordance with the wishes of her family. Baker’s presence in the Pantheon will be symbolised by a cenotaph, as is the case for Aimé Césaire, the great Martinique poet and politician, who is buried in Fort-de-France.

 

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Photo credit: Public domain – Wikimedia Commons - Studio Harcourt – RMN




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