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Women Warriors - Josephine

Josephine Baker

"The Eiffel Tower looks very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what does that matter? What is the good of having the statue without the liberty?”

Baker was the first African American female to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world-famous entertainer. 

Josephine Baker…growing up abandoned and in abject poverty in the slums of St. Louis, she left school at the age of 12 to work in a series of menial jobs, surviving in makeshift cardboard shelters…Her street corner dancing attracted attention and at the age of 15 she was recruited to dance in a vaudeville show and found success in New York Harlem’s dynamic night club scene.

Josephine Baker
However, it was only when she went to Paris that she became a SENSATION. Paris society was integrated and Baker became one of the highest paid entertainers in all of Europe and welcomed into all aspects of Parisian society. Yet, when she returned to ‘Merka in 1936, she was savaged by the ‘Merkin critics; the New York Times calling her a “Negro wench.” She is reported to have returned to France heartbroken by the reception.  

Josephine Baker
 Lady GAGA… who? 

Josephine Baker
Racism prevented her talents from being wholly accepted in the United States until 1973. She refused to perform for segregated audiences when she toured and is credited with helping to integrate Las Vegas shows. 

She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and she was offered the unofficial leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. For assisting the French Resistance during World War II, she received the French military honor, the Croix de guerre.

In a famously reported incident, she accused the Stork Club in Manhattan with refusing her service. Grace Kelly, who happened to be in the club at the time, saw what happened. She marched her entire party out of the club, arm-in-arm with Baker. Kelly never set foot in the club again and the two women became friends to the end. Years later, when Baker had fallen on hard times she was supported by Grace Kelly, who was known as Princess Grace of Monaco by then, with money and a villa.

Josephine Baker sashayed onto a Paris stage during the 1920s with a comic, yet sensual appeal that took Europe by storm. Famous for barely-there dresses and no-holds-barred dance routines, her exotic beauty generated nicknames like "Black Venus.”  She maintained energetic performances and a celebrity status for 50 years until her death in 1975. At her funeral 20.000 people came in mourning.

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