It’s a fitting honor for an iconic woman.
Josephine Baker, the famed entertainer and fighter for others’ rights, will officially be reinterred at the Pantheon monument in Paris. She will be the first Black woman to rest there, as well as one of just a handful of women overall to receive the honor, considered to be the biggest in France.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently called for the ceremony, which will take place November 30, after catching wind of a petition in favor of the move that was signed by nearly 38,000 people. Only the president can approve of a person’s burial in the monument.
Writer Laurent Kupferman, who led the call for her reinterment, told The New York Times that Baker “embodies the Republic of possibilities,” adding that her myriad achievements were “possible in France at a time when it was not in the United States.”
In addition to her celebrated performing career, during which she dazzled as a dancer and starred in numerous films — becoming the first Black woman to ever lead in a major motion picture in the process –the St. Louis-born French national never shied away from a fight. In fact, she walked headfirst into them.
During World War II, Baker fought as part of the French Resistance. She was later awarded France’s Resistance Medal, as well as the Croix de guerre from the nation’s military. In addition, she was named Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, the highest French order of merit.
Later, in the United States, she took a stand against the racism that initially drove her away from America — first by refusing to play for segregated audiences, then by becoming involved with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Baker was present at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, known for where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Baker was first laid to rest in 1975 in Monaco, dressed in her French military uniform and medals of valor she’d received during her years of service, the Associate Press reports. She was 68 when she died.
Now, she’ll be honored by her beloved France for a lifetime of exceptional, internationally recognized work and bravery, joining the likes of Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie, and poet and novelist Victor Hugo.