PARIS (AP) — The voice of Josephine Baker, speaking and singing, will resonate Tuesday in front of the Pantheon monument in Paris, where she is to symbolically be inducted — becoming the first Black woman to receive France’s highest honor.
French President Emmanuel Macron made the decision in August to honor the “exceptional figure” who “embodies the French spirit,” making Baker also the first American-born citizen and the first performer to be immortalized into the Pantheon. She will join scientist Marie Curie, philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French luminaries.
The move aims to pay tribute to “a woman whose whole life is looking towards the quest of both freedom and justice,” Macron’s office said.
Baker is not only praised for her world-renowned artistic career but also for her active role in the French Resistance during World War II, her actions as a civil rights activist and her humanist values, which she displayed through the adoption of her 12 children from all over the world.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker became a megastar in the 1930s, especially in France, where she moved in 1925 as she was seeking to flee racism and segregation in the United States.
“The simple fact to have a Black woman entering the pantheon is historic,” Black French scholar Pap Ndiaye, an expert on U.S. minority rights movements, told The Associated Press.
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