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Josephine Baker to Be Honored With a Panthéon Burial

Josephine Baker, an American-born Black dancer and civil rights activist who in the early 20th century became one of France’s great music-hall stars, will be laid to rest in the Panthéon, France’s storied tomb of heroes, a close adviser to President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday.

The honor will make Ms. Baker — who became a French citizen in 1937 and died in Paris in 1975 — the first Black woman and one of very few foreign-born figures to be interred there. The Panthéon houses the remains of some of France’s most revered, including Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The decision to transfer Ms. Baker’s remains, which are buried in Monaco, comes after a petition calling for the move, started by the writer Laurent Kupferman, caught the attention of Mr. Macron. The petition has garnered nearly 40,000 signatures over the past two years.

Mr. Kupferman suggested that Mr. Macron approved the reinterment “because, probably, Josephine Baker embodies the Republic of possibilities.”

“How could a woman who came from a discriminated and very poor background achieve her destiny and become a world star?” Mr. Kupferman said. “That was possible in France at a time when it was not in the United States.”

Entombment at the Panthéon can be approved only by a president, and Ms. Baker’s reinterment is highly symbolic, coming as France has been convulsed by heated culture wars over its model of social integration, and as gender and race issues have fractured the country around new political front lines.

The news was first reported by Le Parisien newspaper. The funeral will take place on Nov. 30.

Ms. Baker, born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906 in St. Louis, started her career as a dancer in New York in the early 1920s before heading to France, where she quickly became a sensation.

She said that she had been motivated to move abroad because of discrimination that she had endured in the United States. “I just couldn’t stand America, and I was one of the first colored Americans to move to Paris,” she told The Guardian newspaper in 1974.

Read entire article at New York Times