Empire State Building lights up to honor Josephine Baker

Published: 05:15 PM, 30 Nov, 2021
Empire State Building in honour of French-American resistance hero
Caption: Musicians performs during an event at the Empire State Building in honour of French-American resistance hero, civil rights activist and diversity pioneer Josephine Baker, in New York
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New York's Empire State Building lit up in the French national colors on Monday evening to honor Josephine Baker, on the eve of the US-born singer, dancer and rights activist's entrance to the Pantheon in Paris. 

Baker will become the first Black woman to be honored in the mausoleum, the final resting place of leading figures in the history of France. 

"Tonight... we glow blue, white, and red in celebration of entertainer and civil rights icon Josephine Baker," the 102-story art deco skyscraper's Twitter account posted. 

As night fell, the building's tricolor top and spire gleamed among Manhattan's city lights, whilst on the 86th floor viewing deck, an event to celebrate Baker took place. 

French basketball player Evan Fournier, who plays for the New York Knicks, paid tribute to the "courage" of a woman who was a heroine of the French World War II Resistance and a seasoned anti-racist activist.

"When you look at what happened last year or two years ago, she was ahead of the curve in her time," he said, referencing massive protests that rocked the United States after the murder of 46-year-old Black man George Floyd.

Also at the event were "Emily in Paris" actor William Abadie and France's New York consul Jeremie Robert.

One of Baker's 12 adopted children, Jari Bouillon-Baker, 68, was also present to pay tribute to his mother.

Born Freda Josephine McDonald into extreme poverty in Missouri in 1906, Baker left school at 13. 

After trying her luck in New York, she managed to land herself a place in one of the first all-Black musicals on Broadway in 1921.

However, like many Black American artists at the time, she moved to France to escape racial segregation.

On visits back to the United States, Baker suffered the segregation rife against Black people at the time, with many New York hotels turning her away in 1948. 

In 1951 she forced the posh Miami nightclub Copa City to open its doors to African Americans after refusing to perform if Black people were barred.

In New York, the restaurant Chez Josephine was founded by the man considered to be her 13th adopted child, Jean-Claude Baker. 

Baker took French nationality in 1937.

Nearly half a century after her death, on Tuesday a coffin containing earth from four places Baker lived will be placed in a tomb assigned to her in the Pantheon's crypt. 


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.