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Josephine Baker’s Pantheon Burial Makes History

Josephine Baker photographed by Henri Manuel

Updated 1/12/2022

American-born entertainer Josephine Baker is the first Black woman and first entertainer to be honored with a Panthéon burial. 

On November 30, 2021, Baker was inducted into the Panthéon. Baker passed away on April 12, 1975. She was previously buried in Monaco. The Le Parisien first reported on Baker’s scheduled induction ceremony into the Panthéon on Sunday, August 22, 2021. 

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Who was Josephine Baker?

Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. She started her entertainment career in the United States. Her career did not flourish until she moved to France in 1925. There she was famously known for her “banana skirt” dance routine.

While in France she married Jean Lion, an industrialist. During their marriage she became a French citizen. As a citizen she joined the French Resistance during World War II as a spy. She used her career as an entertainer to travel and collect information for France. 

She was also a civil rights activist. She was also the only woman that spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963). She gave her speech right before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

What is the significance of a Panthéon burial?

Panthéon in Paris (Photo/ Creative Commons)

The Panthéon is a building in Paris that was built by French architect Jacques-German Soufflot in 1757. The building was originally created as a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve (Church of Saint-Genevieve). During the French Revolution, the building was secularized meaning it was no longer known as a religious building. The Panthéon is currently known as a Parisian monument dedicated to the memory of influential French women and men. The current use of the building lives up to the name Pantheon. According to Oxford Languages, Panthéon is defined as “a group of particularly respected, famous, or important people”.

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