In SummaryAmerican-born French performer Josephine Baker is the first Black woman to be honored at France’s Panthéon.
Josephine Baker is a multi-award-winning entertainer, and her list of achievements just grew longer with her induction as the first Black woman into the Panthéon in Paris, France.
According to its website, the Panthéon is the French nation’s temple, created by architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot to fulfill Louis XV’s desire to glorify the monarchy in the shape of a cathedral dedicated to Saint Geneviève, Paris’ patron saint.
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It has been the final resting place for the great poets, scientists, generals, churchmen, and politicians who have shaped France’s history since 1885, the year of Victor Hugo’s death and burial in the Pantheon.
While Baker’s admission is historic in itself, the American-born French entertainer is causing posthumous controversy, according to the Associated Press, as some claim France is continuing a long practice of condemning racism overseas while ignoring it at home.
Baker is a pioneer in many ways, including becoming the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, Siren of the Tropics, in 1927.
AP reported she also assisted the French Resistance during World War II, marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and raised a “rainbow tribe” of adopted children from all over the world.
“The times are probably more conducive to having Josephine Baker’s fights resonate: the fight against racism, antisemitism, her part in the French Resistance,” French Republic essayist Laurent Kupferman told AP. “The Pantheon is where you enter not because you’re famous but because of what you bring to the civic mind of the nation.”
Baker is said to have “hated” America and migrated to France in 1925 to escape racism and segregation. She was “widely accepted” in France, with the city of love making her feel freer and more appreciated than she had ever felt before, and eventually becoming her final resting place.
Critics say Baker’s nomination is uncontroversial and a way to bring society together after the pandemic’s difficulties and last year’s protests against French police violence.
But political scientist Françoise Vergès believes such “symbolic gestures” aren’t enough to end racial discrimination in France, noting that even in 2021, it “still exists and still has power over people’s lives,” per AP.