JOSEPHINE BAKER: The Lady and the Spy

To conclude our three part feature on 50 SHADES OF BLACK about the many (beautiful) faces of Josephine Baker, we again highlight her contributions outside of the stage/screen alone and focus on the ways she defied convention and redefined what it meant to be a "lady".

Baker was born in St. Louis but after becoming an instant sensation in France (1925), Baker's legacy could no longer be simply claimed by the United States.  Baker died in Paris in 1975 and was buried in Monaco. At her funeral Josephine Baker became the first American woman to receive French military honors.  Why?  Because among all of her many accomplishments, Josephine was a decorated undercover spy who aided French Resistance during World War II.

In another off the beat article about her life, titled Josephine Baker–Dancer, Singer, Spy by Piper Bayard, the details of Josephine Baker's multi-faceted life including details about her espionage are explored.

As World War Two approached, France contacted Josephine and asked if she would report on any interesting information that she picked up while attending parties (sometimes at European embassies). Josephine agreed, and she quickly developed a skill for charming many fascist big wigs, who were desperate to cultivate an appearance of culture by being seen with her. When Germany invaded France, Josephine received brief emergency instruction in spy craft and was taught to use invisible ink and make safe information passes.

During the Nazi occupation, Josephine was a prized commodity for parties and events held by Nazi and Italian fascist big shots. She was allowed to travel in and out of Vichy, France, Nazi occupied France, and neutral countries such as Portugal and Switzerland.

Josephine set up a theater and stage company in Marseilles, France and used it as a cover for a large espionage and sabotage organization. Refugees from Belgium and occupied France were taught to pose as stage artists, and the stage artists were taught to perform as spies. Her seemingly harmless musicians and actor types formed a valuable branch of the French Resistance.

In 1941, Josephine and some of her recruits traveled to North Africa because she was stricken with a bad case of pneumonia and was seeking a dryer, warmer climate. Free French leader General Charles De Gaulle and his staff felt that Josephine had done more than her share and encouraged her to remain safely in French Colonial Africa to recover her health. Josephine was highly committed to the cause of freedom, and instead of remaining safe she traveled to Morocco and set up an expanded operation.

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More than simply beauty, more than simply light skin, more than simply a black woman from St. Louis, more than simply the mother of 12 adopted children, more than a bisexual women who married 4 men, more than a civil rights activist, more than a French spy, and more than the face that we so happily featured on the cover design for this 50 SHADES OF BLACK Project, she was Freda Josephine McDonald Baker and we celebrate all that she was and continues to be.

-Carlton Mackey