Josephine Baker was born in Missouri in 1906. She grew up working a variety of jobs such as babysitting and waitressing. Due to her employment, she never relied on a man financially. She began her career in the arts while touring with the The Jones Family Band in the U.S. When the group split, Baker tried to pursue an opportunity with the The Dixie Steppers, however was rejected because she “was to skinny and dark”. However, when a replacement was needed Baker was prepared to fill in. Baker then traveled to Paris, and her career took a positive turn. She eventually became the highest paid entertainer in Europe. When Baker returned to the U.S. she was met with criticism, to the point where The New York Times called her a “Negro wench”. During World War II, Baker contributed to the war effort by performing for the troops but also would smuggle secret messages for the French resistance. Baker received the Medal of the Resistance and was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government. Baker was also an activist against racism in the U.S. When Baker passed away the French government performed a 21-gun salute in honor of her death, which made her the first American woman to be buried in France with military honors. You may recognize Baker with her infamous banana skirt which consisted of 16 bananas which were strung on to her skirt.
“You must get an education. You must go to school, and you must learn to protect yourself. And you must learn to protect yourself with the pen, and not the gun.”