French-American dancer, singer, French Resistance member and rights activist Josephine Baker became the first Black woman to enter France’s Panthéon mausoleum of outstanding historical figures on Tuesday, nearly half a century after her death.
French President Emmanuel Macron made the decision in August to honour 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.
Josephine Baker a legend
Baker is just the sixth woman to be honoured in the secular temple to the “great men” – and, belatedly, great women – of the French Republic, which sits on a hill in Paris’s Left Bank.
She is also the first entertainer to be immortalised alongside writer Victor Hugo, scientist Marie Curie and nearly 80 other figures from the worlds of politics, science and the arts in a solemn ceremony led by President Emmanuel Macron.
Baker, who left the US in 1925 to escape racial segregation and found fame in France, is buried in Monaco.
France’s Panthéon Paris
The voice of Josephine Baker resonated on Tuesday through streets of Paris’ famed Left Bank as recordings from her extraordinary career kicked off an elaborate ceremony at the domed Pantheon monument, where she was symbolically inducted – becoming the first Black woman to receive France’s highest honour.
To symbolise her entry to the Panthéon, a coffin containing earth from four places where she lived, including her hometown of St. Louis and Paris, was carried into the building by members of France’s air force, watched by hundreds of dignitaries and onlookers.
She will join scientist Marie Curie, philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French luminaries.