Black History Month kicked off February 1 in the United States. The origins of this celebration began back in 1915 with the founding of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Just over 10 years later, the group established Negro History Week to coincide with the February birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Negro Week then evolved into Black History Month on college campuses in the late 1960s before finally earning official recognition in 1976.
In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to revisit Josephine Baker’s legacy. How did this icon change history worldwide? Here are just a handful of her highlights:
1. Baker “broke down color barriers and became a superstar” in the 1920s and beyond by “winning the hearts and minds of people around the world.” She toured in Paris and French critics praised Baker as the “Black Venus” for her glamorous wardrobe and her provocative style of dance.
2. She influenced women’s fashion in the 1920s in a variety of ways. Baker’s Art Deco sensibility was evident in her slicked back hair-do, but she also wore statement earrings and layered other jewelry pieces to create a winning accessories look. Her style was luxurious and is said to have influenced such modern day stars as Beyonce.
3. An American-born French performer, Baker became an activist and spied for the French Resistance during WWII. “She stealthily transcribed enemy intel onto her musical scores with invisible ink and delivered the scores back to French officials.
4. “She ardently fought against the rise of fascism in Europe and was one of the main figures willfully and publicly speaking out against racism in the United States in the ’50s and ’60s.” Baker refused to perform for “segregated audiences and demanded equal treatment as an entertainer at elite venues” like the Stork Club in New York City.
5. Baker spoke alongside Martin Luther King at the 1963 March on Washington as the only official female speaker. She said, “I am not a young woman now, friends. My life is behind me. There is not too much fire burning inside me. And before it goes out, I want you to use what is left to light that fire in you. So that you can carry on, and so that you can do those things that I have done. Then, when my fires have burned out, and I go where we all go someday, I can be happy.”
Here’s to Josephine Baker, a true heroine and an ever inspirational icon!
Who inspires you and why? Tell us in the comments below!
Sources: Smithsonian American Women’s History, Britannica