Black Women Who Slayed History: Josephine Baker
Josephine BakerÂ has so many accomplishments under her belt, she sounds likeÂ Wonderwoman.
She achieved international stardomÂ despiteÂ the United States’Â best efforts to reject her. She wasÂ an American civil rights leader and a French spy during World War II. She was also bomb enoughÂ 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 sheÂ started touring the United States withÂ The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers.Â Â They told herÂ she was too darkÂ to become a chorus girl, soÂ she ignored them and taught herself every routine. When a dancer dropped out, she was ready to replace her.
JosephineÂ performedÂ 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 EuropeÂ and wasÂ 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 EuropeÂ but America was still racist AF when she tried to move back, so she didn’t try forÂ long. Instead, she became a spy back in France. She smuggledÂ messages written onÂ sheet music in invisible inkÂ for the French Resistance. She housed refugees and helped people getÂ visas and passports to leave the country. SheÂ performed for allied troops and people who’d been injured atÂ Buchenwald.Â When the war ended, France gave her two of itsÂ highest military honors.
None of this detractedÂ from her thriving personalÂ life. In what is ultimate dynamic duo goals, she wasÂ good friends with actress-slash-princess Grace Kelly. She wasÂ married four times and her attitude towards men was basically this: never rely on them financiallyÂ and never be too scared to dump one of them. She also dated women at a time when people were rarely open with homosexuality, includingÂ OG feminists Frida Kahlo and Colette. SheÂ and her fourth husbandÂ adopted twelve children from different countries long before Brangelina ever thought of the idea. She called her family herÂ “rainbow tribe” and said they proved racial harmony was possible.
International fame, a busy love life, a multicultural family, and military honors weren’t enough so she traveledÂ back and forth to the United States to help the Civil Rights Movement too. She wouldn’tÂ 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 ovationÂ at Carnegie Hall. She was so shocked she cried.
Find out more about Josephine Baker here.