“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
Josephine Baker born June 3, 1906 and died April 12, 1975, was an American dancer, singer, and actress who found fame in her adopted homeland of France. She was given such nicknames as the “Bronze Venus”, the “Black Pearl”, and the “Créole Goddess”. Even though she was born into poverty in her modest beginnings in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., she did not let where she came from define where she was going in life.
Croix de guerre: Awarded for individuals who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with enemy forces.
Josephine Baker was “the first African American” female to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world-famous entertainer. What an awful burden the label, “The First…”, for someone who just wanted to entertain and do what seemed a natural calling. Why in 2011 do still say, “The First …?” Does “the first …” imply meeting up to a “White Standard”. In a recent interview Morgan Freeman said he didn’t want to be though of as a good black actor because the black label implied a different standard. When will a person of color just be able to be great at something and not have skin color define their standard?
Josephine Baker gained international prominence as a political revolutionary for assisting the French Resistance during World War II, which resulted in being the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de guerre. Josephine Baker is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. She was offered the unofficial leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s assassination, but turned it down.
Yes she was African American and she was “the first…” many times but like most others who were “the first…” that was not her goal. She was simply following her natural path and trying to do what she felt was right. It’s time to shift our focus from differentiation of standard and accomplishment based on the personal aspects of race, sex, religion or sexual orientation to each of us striving for the highest standard of what we can contribute. As a person of action and conviction Josephine Baker sets an example that we all should seek to emulate. What are our gifts and how can we make a difference?
Joseph Osborne Social Curator