The internet is buzzing with news iconic performer, civil rights activist and spy for the French resistance during WWII, Josephine Baker, will be reinterred at France’s Pantheon, which is the nation’s highest honor. The St. Louis native will become the first Black person, Black woman and sixth woman. interred at the famous monument. Considered Franco-American, Baker. became a French citizen after marrying her third husband Jean Léon (born Levy) in 1937. Baker will be the third woman interred based on her merit and not marriage at the famous monument.
Baker left America for France to escape anti-Black racism and segregation, becoming a world-renowned performer who is most famously represented wearing her trademark banana dance skirt. In WWII, Baker joined the French resistance as a spy, getting military information to allies. Baker, who would sew the messages. into her clothing, used her travels as a world-famous dancer as her cover. In 1963, Baker traveled to Washington to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
A trailblazer Baker, who was bisexual, adopted twelve children of all racial and gender backgrounds referring to them as her “rainbow tribe.” Celebrated essayist Laurent Kupferman and one of Baker’s sons, Brian Bouillon Baker lobbied French President Emmanual Macron to bestow the honor on Baker.
According to France 24:
“A petition to honor Baker at the Panthéon was started by Kupferman on May 8, which is celebrated as Victory in Europe Day, and gathered almost 38,000 signatures. Baker ‘should not be inducted only because she was a woman or because she was Black’, Kupferman said. ‘She should be inducted because of the acts of courage she performed for the country.'”
Baker died in 1975 at the age of 68 after suffering a stroke. The icon had recently made a triumphant return to the stage before the stroke in an attempt to return to her prior cultural and economic status.
Baker’s body is currently interred in the Monaco Cemetery in Monaco. She was buried in a French Military uniform wearing medals for the work she performed as part of the French Resistance. The legendary performer’s remains will be reinterred at France’s Pantheon, which is the nation’s highest honor and reserved for national heroes.
Baker will become the first Black person, Black woman and sixth woman interred in the celebrated monument, which is located in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Baker will join world renowned scientist Marie Curie, philosopher Voltaire and women’s rights activist Simone Veil at the Pantheon.
The ceremony to reinter Josephine Baker at the Pantheon will take place November 30.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.