This woman crush Wednesday, I have the pleasure of focusing on the life and legacy of Josephine Baker. An “adult” entertainer, fierce activist and WWII spy, she became the first black woman to be an international star and star in a major motion picture. The first time I heard about her, I was sitting in my ADW class at Spelman College. In this class, you learned about prominent African American leaders who broke shattered boundaries and stigmas alike. And she? She was a badass! I literally dream of being able to meet her one day, in another life maybe.
She was an entertainer from St. Louis, Missouri, who became famous for her singing, dancing, and acting in New York City. One of her most memorable performances included dancing and singing in nothing but a skirt of bananas around her waist, a performance that has been paid homage by the likes of Beyoncé and other artists. She eventually got a part in the chorus for Shuffle Along, the first successful black musical ever! She eventually became known for her unique dancing style and outrageous costumes.
Apart from being what people would say a modern day feminist/womanist, she was an advocate for justice. She refused to perform for segregated audiences as she lived in a time where open systematic racism was still a thing and devoted the rest of her life to the civil rights movement. She spoke at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963-an event that peaceably brought together civil rights groups and leaders to support the passage of civil rights legislation. She also began traveling into the South. She gave a talk at Fisk University, an an HBC, on “France, North Africa And The Equality Of The Races In France”.
She refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States, although she was offered $10,000 by a Miami club. (The club eventually met her demands). Her insistence on mixed audiences helped to integrate live entertainment shows in Las Vegas. After this incident, she began receiving threatening phone calls from people claiming to be from the KKK but said publicly that she was not afraid of them. At one point, her and her husband they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because of racial discrimination. She was so upset by this treatment that she wrote articles about the segregation in the United States.
Due to the racism she faced in the US, she decided to pack up her act and moved to Paris, France, without ever looking back. Baker’s success, in theater and in movies, continued during her time in France, and she became a French citizen after marrying Jean Lion. Her love of France was evident in her participation in the French Resistance during World War II. She was made a sublieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary of the French Air Force and earned a medal for her work on behalf of the Allies.
I don’t know about y’all, but this woman stood for so much that means a lot to me. She embraced who she was, her sexuality, her sensuality and always, always stood up for what she believed in. She was savage, owning every single decision that she made and using her divine feminie energy like nobody’s business. Josephine, I channel your energy in my life, and I tip my hat to you gorgeous.
Until next time,