Josephine Baker is first Black woman given France’s top burial honor

Entertainer Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker appears onstage with a young elephant during her gala premiere April 4, 1968, at the Olympia in Paris.
(Associated Press)

The remains of American-born singer and dancer Josephine Baker will be reinterred at the Panthéon monument in Paris, making the entertainer — who was a World War II hero in France — the first Black woman to receive the country’s highest honor.

Le Parisien newspaper reported Sunday that President Emmanuel Macron had decided to organize a ceremony for Baker Nov. 30 at the Panthéon, which houses the remains of scientist Marie Curie, philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French luminaries.

The presidential palace confirmed the newspaper’s report.

After her death in 1975, Baker was buried in Monaco, dressed in a French military uniform with the medals she received for her role in the French Resistance during the war.


Baker will be the fifth woman honored with a Panthéon burial. Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, one of France’s most revered politicians, was laid to rest at the monument in 2018; also buried there are two women who fought with the French Resistance, Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Curie. The monument also holds the remains of 72 men.

Born in St. Louis, Baker moved to France in 1925 to flee racism and segregation in the U.S. She became a megastar in the 1930s for her “banana skirt” dance routines, wowing audiences at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and later at the Folies Bergère.

She became a French citizen after her marriage in 1937 to industrialist Jean Lion.

During World War II, Baker joined the French Resistance. Among other missions, she collected information from German officials she met at parties and carried messages hidden in her underwear to England and other countries, using her star status to justify her travels.

A civil rights activist, she took part in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.