1951 May 20

NAACP Declares Today “Josephine Baker Day” in Harlem


The New York branch of the NAACP celebrated “Josephine Baker Day” with a motorcade through the Harlem section of the city.

Josephine Baker was an African American singer and actress, born in St. Louis in 1906, who moved to Paris in 1925 and became famous for her part in the musical revue La Revue Negre. The highlight of the show, which made Baker famous, was a dance in which she wore a costume consisting only (or mostly) of a string of bananas around her waist. Baker lived in France until her death in 1975, maintaining a successful career, with only occasional visits to the U.S.

During World War II, Baker was an active supporter of the anti-Nazi Resistance movement. After the war, in recognition of her contributions, General Charles DeGaulle awarded her both the Croix de Guerre and the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, the highest honors France can grant.

Although living in France, Baker gave active support to the civil rights movement in the U.S. During her 1951 visit, she made a citizen’s arrest of a man in Los Angeles who called her the “N” word at a hotel. The man was fined $100.

On August 28, 1963 Baker addressed the famous March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. She was the only woman on the program, and she appeared wearing her French Legion of Honor military uniform, adorned with many medals.

Learn more: Phyllis Rose, Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time (1989)

Visit the Josephine Baker web site: http://www.cmgww.com/stars/baker/about/biography.html

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