Black Women Who Slayed History: Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker has so many accomplishments under her belt, she sounds like Wonderwoman.

She achieved international stardom despite the United States’ best efforts to reject her. She was an American civil rights leader and a French spy during World War II. She was also bomb enough to receive over 1,000 marriage proposals in her lifetime. Like, she was lit and people either knew it or figured it out eventually.

Her career began at age thirteen when she started touring the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers.  They told her she was too dark to become a chorus girl, so she ignored them and taught herself every routine. When a dancer dropped out, she was ready to replace her.

Josephine performed in the first Broadway musical written by and about African-Americans. Later, she moved to France to prosper in a country that wasn’t segregated like the United States. She was earning more than any other woman in Europe and was one of the most photographed women in the world. She was also one of the first African-American women to star in a major motion picture.

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She was adored in Europe but America was still racist AF when she tried to move back, so she didn’t try for long. Instead, she became a spy back in France. She smuggled messages written on sheet music in invisible ink for the French Resistance. She housed refugees and helped people get visas and passports to leave the country. She performed for allied troops and people who’d been injured at Buchenwald. When the war ended, France gave her two of its highest military honors.

None of this detracted from her thriving personal life. In what is ultimate dynamic duo goals, she was good friends with actress-slash-princess Grace Kelly. She was married four times and her attitude towards men was basically this: never rely on them financially and never be too scared to dump one of them. She also dated women at a time when people were rarely open with homosexuality, including OG feminists Frida Kahlo and Colette. She and her fourth husband adopted twelve children from different countries long before Brangelina ever thought of the idea. She called her family her “rainbow tribe” and said they proved racial harmony was possible.

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International fame, a busy love life, a multicultural family, and military honors weren’t enough so she traveled back and forth to the United States to help the Civil Rights Movement too. She wouldn’t perform for segregated audiences and personally helped integrate Las Vegas. She boycotted racist venues with the help of her homegirl, Grace Kelly. She spoke at the March On Washington next to Martin Luther King Jr. himself.

By 1972, America had finally progressed enough for her to receive a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall. She was so shocked she cried.

Find out more about Josephine Baker here.

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