Josephine Baker to Be the First Black Woman Honored With a Panthéon Burial in Paris

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Josephine Baker, who became a superstar entertainer in France, will be honored with a Panthéon burial in Paris, the New York Times reports.

Le Parisien newspaper confirmed Sunday that French President Emmanuel Macron plans to organize a ceremony at the Paris monument. 

Built between 1758 and 1790, Baker will be only the sixth woman to be entered into the Panthéon where Marie Curie, the French philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French historical figures are memorialized.

In a campaign for her induction that began in 2013, Baker’s family collected over 38,000 signatures in a petition that ensured French President Emmanuel Macron’s approval.

While her body will remain buried in Monaco, a plaque to honor her entry into the mausoleum will be added on Nov. 30 her grandson Claude Bouillon-Baker told Agence France-Presse.

French minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said in a statement on social media that Baker was “a great lady who loved France.”

Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906, Baker became a megastar in the 1930s in France where she moved in 1925 as she was fleeing from racism and segregation in the United States.

Baker became famous for her “banana skirt” dance routines and thrilled audiences at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees and later at the Folies Bergere in Paris and in 1927, she became the first black woman to star in a major film, “Siren of the Tropics” (“La Sirène des tropiques”).

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She became an official French citizen after her marriage to industrialist Jean Lion in 1937.

During World War II, she joined the French Resistance where she collected information from German officials she met at parties and secretly carried messages to England and other allied countries, using her star status to justify her travels.

While touring the US, she refused to perform in segregated hotels and clubs and called out the establishments that refused her service. Also, she worked with the NAACP, lent her voice at rallies in the American South and spoke at the “March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom” where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream Speech.”.

When Baker died in 1975, she became the first and only American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral.Her life was immortalized in an HBO film titled The Josephine Baker Story where she was played by Lynn Whitfield.

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