ST. LOUIS – A dazzling dancer and civil rights activist Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St. Louis and would later light up stages from the United States to France.

Josephine Baker grew up in poverty in St. Louis. She started working at the tender age of 13, and went on to indulge in her love for the arts. She went to Paris in 1925 while the eclectic sounds of American jazz were taking over. An attractive woman comfortable and confident in her skin, she performed wearing only a feather skirt and made an impression performing La Revue nègre. She went on to become one of the most famous and highly paid performers in Europe. Aside from her success in the arts, she came back home to the states though she was not nearly as accepted on her own turf. She came back to advocate for equality, protesting and boycotting clubs during the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The NAACP deemed May 20th “Josephine Baker Day.” Just last year, she became the first Black woman and entertainer to receive France’s highest honor when she was inducted into Paris’ Pantheon Monument.

It’s easy to recall her famous banana skirt, but the entertainer left her mark both under bright lights and by fighting social issues in two countries.

Blair’s Black History Moment highlights the history, success, and contributions of African Americans, both past and present, across the St. Louis region. If you would like to highlight a part of Black History dear to the St. Louis area, please send an email to as we recognize people, places, and events crucial to building the St. Louis community.