Black Pearl

Josephine Baker -- international entertainer, member of the French Resistance, civil rights activist -- was born here in St. Louis in 1906.

Raised in poverty, by age eleven Josephine Baker had left school to work as a domestic in homes of wealthy white families. After witnessing the East St. Louis race riots in 1917 she said, "Surely such injustice would one day end...that I Trumpy, would somehow help to make this change occur." This sentiment followed Josephine throughout her life.

Josephine Baker : image and icon
edited by Olivia Lahs-Gonzales ; essays by Benneta Jules-Rosette, Tyler Stoval, Olivia Lahs-Gonzales.
St. Louis, MO : Reedy Press : Sheldon Art Galleries, c2006.
Created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the celebrated African American entertainer, Josephine Baker: Image and Icon uses lavish illustrations and informative essays to tell the story of a legendary performer whose appeal transcended race, country, and culture. This rich, once-in-a-lifetime volume gathers photographs, posters, drawings, prints, and sculpture to tell the story of Baker's life and contributions to twentieth-century culture. An essay by Bennetta Jules-Rosette offers a biographical overview of the performer's career, Olivia Lahs-Gonzales places Baker in context as Modern Woman, and Tyler Stovall describes Black Montmartre and the Paris Jazz Age. Book jacket.
Into the spotlight : four Missouri women
Margot Ford McMillen and Heather Roberson.
Columbia : University of Missouri Press, c2004.
As a companion volume to their earlier book, Called to Courage: Four Women in Missouri History, Margot Ford McMillen and Heather Roberson's Into the Spotlight provides the biographies of four more remarkable Missouri women. Although these women came from radically different circumstances, they all shared a common sense of purpose, determination, and courage, and each used her own unique position to empower herself and others. Sacred Sun, also called Mohongo, was a Native American of the Osage tribe in Missouri. In 1827, her people lost their land, their sacred places, and many of their traditions. Seeking answers to the dilemma faced by her people, and possibly aid from the French, she journeyed to Europe with a group of prominent Osage and a French entrepreneur. The harrowing events she experienced there would shape the woman she became when she returned to the Osage tribe, which had been forced to move to Oklahoma and was still struggling to survive. Emily Newell Blair was born into a successful southwest Missouri family. Although she was born at a time when the contributions of women in the workforce were quite limited, she was encouraged by her family to get an education and expand her skills in writing and speaking. When women did begin to pursue education and careers, Blair was at the forefront, working tirelessly to secure voting rights for women. Eventually, she was elected to the Democratic National Committee and later poured her energy into organizing Democratic women's clubs. Josephine Baker grew up in segregated turn-of-the-century St. Louis society, which determined human worth by the color of one's skin. Her mixed ethnic background left Baker feeling isolated both from her own black family and from white society. Driven to develop her own unique style, she became a star of song and stage, toured Europe, served as a spy, and was a fervent civil rights and antiracism activist. Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, known to her family as ``Bess,'' grew up in one of Missouri's most prominent families. She married a neighborhood boy-considered unacceptable by her mother-who would go on to become President Harry Truman. Bess Truman, called ``the boss'' by her husband, worked side by side with him, editing his speeches and providing advice and guidance through innumerable crises during and after World War II. Into the Spotlight provides valuable new insights into Missouri and American history, as well as women's history, and will be a welcome addition to the Missouri Heritage Readers Series.
Josephine : the hungry heart
Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase.
New York : Cooper Square Press ; 2001.
  1. Originally published: 1st ed. New York : Random House, c1993.
  2. Includes bibliographical references (p. [505]-512) and index.
The Josephine Baker story
HBO Pictures presents in Association with RHI Entertainment, Inc. and Anglia Television.
New York, NY : HBO Video, 2001, c1991
  1. DVD; Dolby digital 5.1.
  2. Rated R.
  3. In English with optional Spanish soundtrack and optional subtitles in English, French, or Spanish. Closed captioned.
  4. Lynn Whitfield, Rubén Blades, David Dukes.
  5. Director, Brian Gibson ; producer, John Kemeny ; story by Ron Hutchinson ; director of photography, Elmer Ragalyi ; film editor, Graham Walker ; music, Georges Delerue.
  6. Videodisc release of the 1991 made for television motion picture.
  7. The story of Josephine Baker, the African-American girl who became an international star.
  8. Special features include cast and crew bios.

From St. Louis to New York to Paris, audiences became fans of Josephine Baker and her energy-filled performances.  With her classic beauty, exotic banana and feather outfits, bold dances, and repertoire of jazz tunes Josephine became a true international entertainer.  Her nicknames 'Black Pearl' and 'Black Venus' remain popular.

Josephine Baker fell in love with Paris when she moved there in 1925. She thrived in Paris' integrated society with its acceptance of African music and art. Today visitors can still explore many of the Parisian theatres, nightclubs, and cafes Josephine frequented for over fifty years.

During WWII Josephine Baker responded to threats against her beloved Paris by performing for the troops and working with the French Resistance. For her valor General Charles de Gaulle awarded her the Legion de Honneur and the Rosette de la Resistance.

Josephine called her twelve adopted children the "Rainbow Tribe".

She wanted to show that "children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers."

Still seeking to make changes, Ms. Baker worked for civil rights in the United States and France in the 1950s and 1960s. In one famous incident she tried to sue the Stork Club in New York City when the restaurant refused to serve her.

Famous on several continents, Josephine Baker was named as Most Outstanding Woman of the Year by the NAACP (1951), became the first woman buried in France with military honors, and has a Parisian park named in her honor.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff