Late entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker has been inducted into the French Pantheon in a ceremony yesterday evening in Paris. She is the first Black woman and the first American to be inducted into the Pantheon, a national mausoleum that is the final resting place for numerous French heroes and dignitaries.
“She broke down barriers. She became part of the hearts and minds of the French people” said French President Emmanuel Macron at Tuesday’s ceremony. “Josephine Baker,” he added, “you enter the Pantheon because while you were born American … deep down there was no one more French than you.”
Born in St. Louis in the early 20th century, Baker found fame and success as a performer in Paris, where she had relocated at the age of 19. She spent most of her life in France, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1937. Despite her affinity for her adopted country, she was also an active member of the civil rights movement in the United States, advocating for equal rights and for an end to segregation.
Although married four times, each to a man, Baker had relationships with women including Blues artist Clara Smith. She was also allegedly involved with artist Frida Kahlo and French writer Colette.
The most recent honor was bestowed upon Baker as a result of a petition started by French essayist Laurent Kupferman, the AP reports. “The times are probably more conducive to having Josephine Baker’s fights resonate,” Kupferman told the news outlet. “The Pantheon is where you enter not because you’re famous but because of what you bring to the civic mind of the nation.”
While Baker will be honored with a place in the Pantheon, her body will remain buried in Monaco, as requested by her family. She is one of only a handful of women commemorated in France’s national monument. Others include famed scientist Marie Curie and women’s rights activist Simone Veil.