Day 13 of Colourisation Project – May 20th
On this day in 1951 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named May 20 Josephine Baker Day in honour of her efforts and fight against racism.
Josephine Baker was a dancer, singer and actress born in the slums of St. Louis. Missouri. She spent most of her career in France. Known also as “Black Pearl,” “Bronze Venus” and “Creole Goddess”, Baker first became notorious for dancing topless with a tutu of fake bananas in 1920s France. She went on to become a world-famous entertainer and by 1927 she was earning more than any entertainer in Europe.
In 1934 Baker became the first African American female to star in a major motion picture, Zouzou. A mega-star of star of the Folies Bergère in Paris, she returned to the United States in 1936 to star in the Zigfield Follies. Despite her celebrity status in Europe, American audiences did not take kindly to the notion of a sophisticated black female performer with so much power. Reviews were scathing and cruel. The New York Times called her a “Negro wench.” Josephine returned to Europe heartbroken.
Baker was not only an entertainer, she was also a fighter and a crusader. She became a French citizen in 1937 and assisted the French Resistance during World War 2 for which she received the French military honour, the Croix Du Guerre.
Although based in France, Baker supported the American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. She refused to perform for segregated audiences in America. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1951, Baker made charges of racism against the Stork Club in Manhattan, where she she had been refused service. Actress Grace Kelly, who was at the club at the time, supported Baker, by storming out of the club with her entire party, vowing never to return.
During Baker’s work with the Civil Rights Movement she began adopting children, 12 in all from diverse backgrounds. The family was often referred to as The Rainbow Tribe as she wanted to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”
Baker died of a brain hemorrhage in 1975, 4 days after after performing at the Bobino in Paris with a show celebrating her 50 years in show business. So respected and esteemed in France was she, that she became the only American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral.
Today’s photo photo was available under the Creative Commons Licence and comes to you courtesy of Fotopedia
“I wasn’t really naked, I simply didn’t have any clothes on.” Josephine Baker