josephine baker

During World War II, Josephine Baker served with the French Red Cross and was an active member of the French resistance movement. Using her career as a cover Baker became an intelligence agent, carrying secret messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and received a Medal of the Resistance in 1946. In 1961 she received the highest French honor, the Legion d'Honneur awarded by then President Charles de Gaulle.

Our loss, U.S.A….

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Josephine Baker was one of the most revolutionary (and slept on) figures in history. One of the most famous people in Europe at the time, she was a very powerful, sensual, and determined bisexual black woman. Born in St. Louis, 1906, she was raised in poverty and without education or a father. When she was eight, she worked as a live-in domestic for white families and found herself abused by them, one lady burning her hands when she put too much soap in the laundry. She later dropped out of school when she was 13 and lived in the slums. However, through her passion for dance she gained fame among chorus groups as a comedic character, beginning the dance with an act where she would butcher the entire thing, then ending it doing better than all the other girls. Once known as “that funny chorus girl,” she soon became “the highest paid chorus girl”. However, these groups in America were extremely racist, many dancers performing with her were in blackface and all dancers except her were white. She left to go to Paris as soon as she heard of an all black dance group she could join, and it all took off from there. Catching everyone attention with her risque, intimate dance act in La Revue Nègre, she quickly gained fame in the burlesque scene of France, a fame that soon spread to Germany, South America, etc. She lived a luxurious life, purchasing exotic pets like baby cheetahs and renting (then later purchasing) a castle in France, and pursued many lovers, both men and women. She later became a spy during World War II to defend France against Germany, smuggling information in her music scores. Her work later lead her to receive the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, as well as being the only American-born woman to receive full french military honors at her funeral. Her political work did not end there, and she became a large participant in the American Civil Rights era of the 1950’s. In her later career during World War II and 1950’s America, she refused to perform to segregated groups and many clubs that booked her caved, leading the Ku Klux Klan to leave her phone calls threatening her life. However, she remained unafraid and continued to perform to mixed audiences and give speeches/write articles on racism in America. To further her efforts to prove that PoC and whites could mix and still keep peace, she adopted 12 children from all over the world calling them her “Rainbow Tribe”, showing that kinship and love can transcend racial boundaries. Her legacy lives on as an incredibly influential and badass figure, in the black, feminist/womanist, and bisexual community. The first superstar of her kind, she paved the way for many great black stars today. 

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Illustrator and graphic designer Ann Shen’s drawings of bad girls throughout history. (Though “badass” is more appropriate than “bad,” strictly scientifically speaking.)

For some substantiation on the badassery of the above, see Amelia Earhart on marriage, Ada Lovelace on science and spirituality, Nellie Bly’s groundbreaking journalistic feistiness, and Eleanor Roosevelt on happiness and conformity and her controversial love letters to Lorena Hickok.