The late American entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker has become the first Black woman to be inducted into the Pantheon in Paris, the highest honor that France bestows.
Legendary entertainer Josephine Baker famously sang that she had two loves — “J’ai Deux Amours” — my country and Paris.
She was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, but having come to Paris to perform, she reveled in life here, free of the institutionalized racism and segregation at home.
Baker quickly became the darling of Parisian society, as people flocked to see her perform in her trademark banana skirt, or in shimmering sequins at the city’s nightspots.
She made France her home, dividing her time between Paris and a fairytale castle she bought in southwest of the country.
Baker became French by marriage — and as soon as World War II began, she joined the French Resistance, famously saying “I want to give myself to France, do what you want with me.”
Her fame served her well —she was able to pass coded messages in her music scores without being stopped.
She hid Resistance fighters and fleeing Jews in her castle.
She also fought against racism in the U.S., becoming active in the civil rights movement.
Her family said it saddened her that she had to leave home to be treated as an equal.
On Tuesday, she became, the first Black woman, the first American and the first professional entertainer to enter the Pantheon, reserved as the final resting place for just dozens of France’s greatest, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie.
The moving ceremony was led by French president Emmanuel Macron, who called Baker an “exceptional figure” who embodies the French spirit.
He noted that she fought for the freedom and equality of all.
Outside, her music played to the crowds who had come to watch this historic moment.
At the request of her surviving children, Baker’s remains will stay in Monaco where she was buried.
Instead, a plaque was placed on a cenotaph containing soil from the four places dearest to her heart: St Louis, Paris, her castle and Monaco.