Black History Month: Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was a Black dancer and singer from Missouri who moved to France, where she became a popular entertainer, becoming the first Black person to star in a major motion picture, ZouZou.

Less commonly known, was her work as an agent with the French Resistance.

During the beginning of WWII, Baker used her fame and charm to collect whatever information she could from high ranking foreign bureaucrats and officials she met at parties and passed it on to French intelligence.

Once Germany invaded France, Baker returned to her home in South France where she housed people working with the Free French Forces, supplying them with visas. As an entertainer, Baker was able to freely move throughout Europe without raising suspicion, and she took advantage of this ability to collect and pass information on to England.

In 1941, she traveled to North Africa, where she set up a base in Morocco. From there, she toured Spain, pinning notes with information inside her underwear.

Post-war, Baker worked tirelessly in support of civil rights in the US by capitalizing on her fame to write articles on segregation and give talks at universities. Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences, and her insistence on mixed audiences paved the way to the integration of live entertainment shows in Las Vegas. Baker received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan for this, but did not allow them to intimidate her or slow her work.

Baker died in 1975 of a cerebral hemorrhage at 68. She was the only American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral.

Baker received the Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur for her work with the resistance.

Published by Aila Moireach

Aila is a 30 year old single mum and social justice educator and writer. You can find her on facebook, or on her blog http://ailamoireach.com