Strong Rooted Volume II: Republished
Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a washerwoman and a vaudeville drummer. At the age of eight, Baker was working cleaning houses to help her mother. Baker’s father abandoned the two of them right after she was born. The pressure of working and trying to help her mother was more than she could handle, so Baker ran away at the age of thirteen.
Baker decided to go to France to escape the racism she faced in the United States, along with the inability to earn a respectable living as a woman of color. In France, Baker took to dancing and became an almost overnight success.
Baker took a chance at performing one of her routines, wearing only a feather skirt. The audience loved it, and their reaction led Baker to her next decision to wear only a skirt made out of bananas, and again her risk was worth it, and the audience loved it. Baker had performed as part of the Jones Family Band and Chocolate Dandies in the United States, but the response was not the same as it was in France. Baker tried returning to the United States after her popularity had grown in France, but again, she faced the stagnating racism of being Black in the United States. As a result of the racism, she faced Baker married and gained citizenship in France, where she purchased an estate and moved her family to St. Louis.
Baker would go on to become one of Frances’s most popular dancers and spies. Baker worked for French Resistance, smuggling documents in and out of the country in her underwear and mixed in with her sheet music.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Baker returned to the United States to speak with Dr. King and others at the March on Washington and lend her voice and celebrity to fight segregation.
It wasn’t until 1973 that Baker performed at Carnegie Hall, where she received a standing ovation.
Baker adopted twelve children from all over the world because she believed that people of all colors could live together affably and referred to her family as “the brotherhood experiment.”
On April 12, 1975, Josephine Baker died in her sleep from a brain aneurism.
Gone, but not forgotten, we thank you, Ms. Baker, for showing the world what it truly means to be colorblind.