St. Louis celebrates Josephine Baker on day she receives France’s highest honor

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ST. LOUIS — Josephine Baker was inducted into France’s Pantheon monument on Tuesday, becoming the first Black woman to receive the nation’s highest honor.

The entertainer and civil rights activist was also celebrated in her hometown of St. Louis. The Missouri History Museum paid tribute to her life during an event Tuesday night.

“She is just so full of life and full of love and that really comes out of her singing and dancing,” said Lindsay Newton, the director of education at the Missouri Historical Society.

Born in the Mill Creek area in 1906, Baker moved to France later in life to flee racial discrimination. In Paris, she found a home and a stage. There she became famous not just for her talents but for her activism.

She famously became an anti-Nazi spy during World War II, fighting for the French Resistance with secrets shared in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Even as she traveled across the world, St. Louis never forgot her. The city declared Nov. 30 Josephine Baker Day.

“Josephine proudly put St. Louis on the map in the most powerful and profound ways, taking these values we celebrate with her no matter how high she climbed or how famous she became,” said Mayor Tishaura Jones. “And what a star she was.”

Prince Albert of Monaco also sang her praises.

“Even if we are celebrating and commemorating her by this tremendous honor to be accepted into the Pantheon in Paris, her body will remain here in Monaco,” said Prince Albert. “So, I think it was important to acknowledge that and to, you know, to reiterate the length that existed between Monaco and Josephine Baker.”

Back in St. Louis, a packed auditorium at the Missouri History Museum awed at her impressive accomplishments, bringing a full-circle moment for actress, singer, activist, and daughter of St. Louis.

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