Black History month is very important when it comes to honoring African Americans who have made a difference in society and in history. There are many African Americans that have played a major role in making a difference. Many have also influenced and encouraged others to speak up for what they believe in and what they think is right. I chose Josephine Baker because she was very successful and significant. She used the platform she had to make a change around her. In other words, her career benefited people and it gave her a voice when discrimination was going on. During that time, it was uncommon to have someone speak up for what they believe in but Baker made that possible.
Josephine Baker, whose original name was Freda Josephine Mcdonald, was one of the most successful African American performers in French History. She was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. Both of her parents were entertainers who performed throughout the segregated Midwest and they would often bring her on stage during their shows. Their careers didn’t bring them any luck, which forced Baker to look for jobs to survive. If there wasn’t any jobs for her, she would dance on the streets and would collect money from people who would be around her. As time passed, an African American theatre group wanted her to be involved with them and at the age of 15, Josephine ran off and began to be apart of this group. During this time, she got married to Willie Baker which led to her taking her husband’s last name and becoming Josephine Baker. She moved to New York and played a role in the celebration of black life which is now known as the Harlem Renaissance. Baker gained a lot of success when she performed dancing and singing in Paris. She died on April 12, 1975 at the age of 68 due to having an hemorrhagic stroke.
Josephine Baker worked for the French Resistance during World War II and fought for Civil Rights in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. During the war, she acted as a “Resistance Spy” and gathered information that she might overhear in theaters and at parties as a host or entertainer. When Adolf Hitler and the German army invaded France during World War II, Baker joined the fight against the Nazi regime. She boycotted segregated clubs and concert venues and was arguing that if African Americans could not attend her shows, she would not perform. She also delivered a speech alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the “March on Washington” which was one of the largest political rallies that took place for human rights. In that speech, she mentioned the racial abuse she had suffered and mentioned how people of different colored skin could live together without fear, prejudice, and intolerance. When Baker visited America, she was refused entry to numerous hotels under segregation which led her to speak out against hotels and clubs that refused people of color and she started a campaign with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
There are several interesting facts about Josephine Baker, one being that she adopted 12 kids from a variety of countries and ethnicities to prove that children of different religions and color could still be brothers. She called them the “Rainbow tribe” and they lived on her estate of hotels, farms, and rides. Her adopted children would entertain and sing songs for paying visitors to her house. While it was unusual for a woman during her era, Baker never depended on a man for financial support which is why she never hesitated to leave in a relationship. Although Josephine Baker received more than 1,500 proposals from men over the course of her life, she got married only four times but she never had children with any of her husbands. In 1937, Baker married a Frenchman whose name was Jean Lion but they separated three years later although the marriage allowed her to attain citizenship in France. Two men fought for her love in 1928 and they battled each other with swords but after a while, Baker intervened and forced the two men to set aside their differences. Baker was also asked to become the new leader of the civil rights movement in the United States after Martin Luther King Jr. died but she denied it because she didn’t want to leave her children. Josephine Baker loved animals so much that a club owner gave her a pet cheetah to use as part of her dance show. She also had a goat and a pig who lived in her dressing room at her nightclub. Josephine had several friends, however, her and Grace Kelly were close friends. When Baker had problems financially involving her kids, Grace Kelly tried to bail her out with her creditors. Eventually when Baker ended up losing the house, Kelly made arrangements so she could have a villa in Monaco. People had different nicknames for her such as “La Baker,” Black Pearl,” and “Creole Goddess.”
I learned that Josephine Baker met Frida Kahlo in 1939 while on a visit to Paris. I also learned that Frida Kahlo was one of the rumored female lovers Baker had. In 2003, Angelina Jolie admitted that she modeled her own diverse family on Josephine Baker’s because she stated that Baker was a multiracial family she was beginning to create through adoption. Another thing I learned is that her reputation of a civil rights activist was so significant that the NAACP created May 20, 1961 to be “Josephine Baker Day.” She faced many challenges while trying to make a difference such as being accepted and being obligated to obey laws she didn’t agree with. The last thing I learned was that she was found lying on her bed surrounded by newspaper that had compliments about her performance. She was the first American born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral and this caused the closing down of streets in Paris. She was buried in the principality of her good friend, Princess Grace in Monte Carlo.