Have you ever glanced at someone else’s resume and felt a tad inadequate? I can only imagine how one must have felt when they came across a resume belonging to Josephine Baker. Activist. Performer. Spy. Josephine Baker is the epitome of a triple threat, yet that phrase seems limiting when used to describe her.
In Paris, Baker’s erotic dancing garnered her an immense amount of attention. With admirers ranging from Hemingway to Picasso, her pet cheetah,”Chiquita” which would be spotted on stage wearing a diamond collar during performances, and successful films, Josephine Baker easily established a legacy. However, a legacy is nothing if it’s not equal.
“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”
Despite renouncing her American citizenship in 1937, Josephine Baker became a huge advocate during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s: “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.” When she returned to the United States, she refused to perform for segregated audiences (she turned down $10,000 from a Miami club until they met her demand). During the March in Washington, she was the only official female speaker. Clearly, Baker was a master of expression – whether her vehicle of choice was dance or words, Baker could deliver a message.
Born: June 3, 1906
Known For: Activism, Performing, Spying
In fact, during World War I, the French military relied on Baker’s ability to deliver intel. During parties, Baker used her charm to gather information about the locations of German troops. Since she was an entertainer, Baker easily maneuvered throughout Europe using her notes written on her music sheets to share information. After her assistance and recovering from an illness, Baker toured North Africa to entertain the troops, charging no admission.
“I’m not intimidated by anyone. Everyone is made with two arms, two legs, a stomach and a head. Just think about that.”
Later, a king of Egypt requested Baker to perform, to which she declined as punishment for his neutrality and failure to acknowledge Free France. After receiving threatening phone calls from the KKK during her involvement in integrating audiences for live entertainment in Las Vegas, Baker (very) publicly announced that she was not afraid of them.
Josephine Baker had a message for the world. One that she carried with her in her professional and personal life. During her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, she began adopting children. She referred to her family as “the rainbow tribe,” as she believed that they were an embodiment of her core values.
“All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice.”
Sifting through countries and careers, Baker’s quest for equality never wavered. Each challenge strengthened her resolve, allowing her to face inequality directly demonstrating that privilege for some is equality for none.