Joséphine Baker receives the highest distinction in France – .

Joséphine Baker receives the highest distinction in France – .

The late American artist and civil rights activist Joséphine Baker became the first black woman to be inducted into the Pantheon in Paris, France’s highest honor.

Legendary artist Joséphine Baker 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 from institutionalized racism and segregation at home.

Baker quickly became the darling of Parisian society, as people flocked to see her perform in her iconic banana skirt or shimmering sequins at nightclubs across the city.

She made France her home, dividing her time between Paris and a fairytale castle she bought in the southwest of the country.

Baker became French by marriage – and from the start of WWII she joined the French Resistance, saying ‘I want to give myself to France, do what you want with me’.

Her fame has served her well – she was able to get coded messages through her sheet music without being arrested.

She hid resistance fighters and fleeing Jews in her castle.

She also fought against racism in the United States, becoming active in the civil rights movement.

Her family said it saddened them that she had to leave home to be treated equally.

On Tuesday, she became the first black woman, the first American and the first professional artist to enter the Pantheon, reserved as a last home for a few dozen of the greatest in France, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Marie Curie.

The moving ceremony was led by French President Emmanuel Macron, who called Baker an “exceptional character” who embodies the French spirit.

He noted that she fought for freedom and equality for all.

Outside, his music played in front of the crowds who had come to witness this historic moment.

At the request of his surviving children, Baker’s remains will remain in Monaco where they were buried.

Instead, a plaque was placed on a cenotaph containing the land of the four places most dear to his heart: St Louis, Paris, his castle and Monaco.


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