Induction into the French Pantheon

Induction into the French Pantheon

Designated by French President Emmanuel Macron to be buried in the Pantheon in France on August 21, the beautiful and magnificently scandalous Josephine Baker – the Missouri-born American with almond eyes and a thousand-watt smile who has become her own super-risk can of Paris. can girl, singer, dancer, muse of artists and original incendiary spirit of the roaring twenties – will take place in the august rooms on November 30. When the going gets tough under the Germans in Paris in 1940, Baker becomes a French Resistance spy and, as a result, holds both the Croix de Guerre and is a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for many services rendered in Europe and in North Africa. The reason why her remains will be transferred to the august chambers on Tuesday, November 30, is that on that date, in 1937, she married the French industrialist Jean Lion and became a French citizen.

She will rest in the Latin Quarter at the top of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, in the massive building in the center of the Place du Panthéon, in the company of the most elitist: Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Alexandre Dumas, among many others. It is impossible to overstate how rare an honorary induction into the Pantheon is for French citizens, let alone for French citizens of American descent (there are none in the Pantheon, except for Mme Baker), and even less how rare it is for French citizens of black American descent (there are none in the Pantheon, with the exception of Mme Baker), not to mention its rarity for women of black origin (there are none in the Pantheon, with the exception of Mrs. Baker). Baker, who died in 1975, will be one of the six women in the Pantheon, including the double Nobel Prize winner, Madame Dr. Marie Curie. In preparation for the November 30 ceremony, Baker’s body was moved from her former resting place in Monaco, where she spent the last part of her life in an apartment offered to her by her friend Princess Grace.

After French President Emmanuel Macron proposed Baker’s internment in the Pantheon last August, an adviser to the president published this poetic summary of the reasons for this honor:

“The global lesson given by Joséphine Baker is that of a conquest of emancipation and freedom by will, the absolute choice of eternal and universal France.”

“The overall lesson given by Joséphine Baker is that of a voluntary conquest of emancipation and freedom, the absolute choice of an eternal and universal France.

In other words, Josephine Baker did not receive the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre, pictured above during the 1961 ceremony in her Free France uniform, for no reason. Best known around the world for her performances and already hugely famous in Europe by the time the Germans took France, Baker and French Resistance leader Jacques Abtey relentlessly spied on the Germans during Baker’s tour, coding the information to invisible ink on his musical scores, among other cool craftsmanship finesse. Eager to move to England to help more directly with the war effort there, in 1940 her British intelligence agents in Spain and her colleagues in the French Resistance had none of these – she was too valuable in France. , so they urged her to return to France. work as an agent in the country.

Smart and socially agile, she did it with a vengeance, exploiting every ounce of her theatrical fame and ability to move around society to provide tons of intelligence to the Resistance and the Allies. Baker’s brilliance and fabulousness left the Germans – especially the Gestapo, which in Vichy, France first fought for some semblance of normalcy while rooting out, torturing and killing resistance fighters and sympathizers – completely taken in. off guard. The constant risks she took so happily – alone and with Abtey – were deadly.

His war did not end there. With a medical healing blanket story from pneumonia, she decamped to North Africa where, from her base in Morocco, she performed for the Allies throughout this theater. After the war, she was invited to return to the United States for a series of performances in 1951, where she found herself fighting headlong in the civil rights movement, successfully desegregating her audiences in Miami, Las Vegas. and other places. The tour was a great success. Up to.

A surprising exception to its reception in America was the famous Stork Club of New York, whose infamous policy of unspoken segregation that club owner Sherman Billingsley extended to Baker. Baker, herself the owner of a famous club in Paris at the time, only found out when she was refused service. Grace Kelly, who was in the house that night, left her angry with her. This angered Baker’s former friend and famous taste / gossip maker Walter Winchell – whose business was pretty much done at the Stork and who, in revenge, accused Baker of being a Communist. As ludicrous as it sounds now, the US State Department canceled his work visa, ending the successful tour and bolstering Baker’s status as the outspoken expat of his time.

She triumphed over those cheap blows a decade later, delivering a speech in her Free France military uniform sporting her medals alongside Martin Luther King from the Lincoln Memorial stage during the March on Washington, in which she said :

“I entered the palaces of kings and queens and the houses of presidents. And much more. But I couldn’t walk into a hotel in America and have a cup of coffee, and it drove me crazy. And when I get mad, you know I open my big mouth. And then be careful, because when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear her all over the world.


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