It’s no secret that I love Josephine Baker. I love her self love, courage, moxy, bravery, generosity and optimism. There are a lot of lessons for black women in Josephine’s life.
On Thanksgiving Day 2007 I am thankful for my family and friends and for the life I have created in Sweden. I am also thankful to Josephine Baker who motivated me to move to Europe years ago.
The French government was also thankful for Josephine Baker as exemplified in the three honors they gave her:
October 8, 1946 French Medal of Resistance for her wartime work
August 18, 1961 Medal of the Legion d’Honneur, the highest honor that France can bestow, and the Rosette de Resistance.
Here is my take on the Life Lessons from Josephine for which we can all be thankful she taught us:
1. First sex symbol of modern times. Josephine was known as “Black Venus”, “Creole Goddess” and “Black Pearl”. She became the inspiration to many of the hottest fashion designers of the time. By 1927 Josephine was one of the most photographed women in the world, along with personalities like Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford. Jos??phine Baker is noted for being the first woman of African descent to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world famous entertainer. We always have been and always will be style icons. But make sure you have substance to go along with it.
2. When she was thirteen she became a waitress, met a man there named Willie Wells whom she married. She left him when the relationship went bad. She went on to be married a total of 4 times. Josephine never depended on a man financially, so she left relationships as soon as they’d began to fall apart. Don’t be afraid of hard work. And definitely don’t be afraid to get out of a bad situation. Even at a young age Josephine displayed self love.
3. Josephine participated in World War II as a performer for the soldiers as well as doing undercover work for the French Resistance. She smuggled secret messages written in invisible on her music. She also served as a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The French government awarded her with the Medal of Resistance, named her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and Rosette of the Resistance. Let your conscious be your guide. Do the right thing.
4. Although her celebrity status was unrivaled in Europe, when she returned to the United States in 1936 to star in the Ziegfield Follies the public rejected her due to her color. Visiting the U.S. again in the 1950’s, Josephine continued to fight against racism. The Stork Club rejected her as a customer, she began a media battle with pro-segregationist Walter Winchell as her opponent. The NAACP named May 20 as Josephine Baker Day to honor her efforts. She participated in the March on Washington in 1963. Don’t let society bring you down. Self love is possible and very necessary when you live in a hostile environment.
5. She protested in her own way against racism, adopting twelve multi-ethnic orphans, whom she called her “Rainbow Tribe.” Her adopted children were: Akio (Korean son), Janot (Japanese son), Luis (Colombian son), Jarry (Finnish son), Jean-Claude (Canadian son), Mo??se (French Jewish son), Brahim (Arab son), Marianne (French daughter), Koffi (Ivory Coast son), Mara (Venezuelan son), No??l (French son), Stellina (Moroccan daughter). We’ve got a lot of love to give.
6. After retiring to raise her adopted children, Baker had staved off financial problems in the ’50s by returning to the stage, but only temporarily; in 1964, “the sale of the chateau by auction was announced,”. The sale was avoided at the last minute thanks to the intervention of Brigitte Bardot and others, but the chateau was ultimately auctioned off in 1968. A clause in the sales contract allowed Baker to remain in her home until October, 1968, and a subsequent reprieve until March of the following year. While on the road, she learned that the owner planned to evict her, so she returned from touring, sent her children to Paris to stay with her sister, and barricaded herself in the kitchen. While she was out one morning collecting water — it was Baker who, on buying the chateau in 1947, had first installed running water and electricity to the estate — the owner locked her out. After spending the rest of the day and most of the night on the outside stoops of the kitchen, she was rushed to the hospital in a state of shock. Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III offered her a villa in Monaco, but financial troubles again forced her to return to performing. On April 12, 1975, four days after a triumphant return to the Paris stage, Josephine Baker died after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Keep your finances in order, but also keep good friends who can help you in your time of need.