ST. LOUIS — Performer. Dancer. World War II spy. St. Louisan.
Josephine Baker holds many titles.
Now, she's the first Black woman, and first American-born person memorialized in France's Panthéon, the country's highest honor.
While Baker was honored in Paris Tuesday, the commemoration continues in St. Louis.
A bedazzled outfit worn by Josephine Baker radiates in Missouri's History Museum at Forest Park, yet it's Baker's spirit shining through.
"Josephine Baker is definitely an iconic person," said Lindsay Newton, the museum's director of education and community engagement. "It's a really high honor. It's really special to us and honor today in Paris and we happen to have the St. Louis Sound exhibit that tells her story."
Newton said Barker lived in the Mill Creek Valley, which is no longer there.
The city started demolishing Mill Creek Valley in 1959, which had 19,700 residents here. At the time, there were over 5,700 housing units and 839 businesses. Ninety-five percent of the population was African-American.
"She was very poor and at certain times, she earned money dancing on the street corners and she was a very talented dancer, singer. She eventually left St. Louis as a very young woman, she was very dissatisfied with the racial discrimination," Newton said.
Baker moved to France and rose to stardom in the 1930s, catching the eyes of many with her risqué dances and ensembles.
However, she was making moves off stage, too.
"During World War II, she became a spy for the French Resistance. It was very brave, she would perform in other countries and carry information back to France and people didn’t always think to question a performer of her stature, so she really was risking a lot," Newton said. "During the Nazi invasion of Paris, she harbored other members of the French Resistant in her home and she was very dedicated to the social activism in her country."
Beyond a spy, she was a pilot too.
Baker was also known as a civil rights advocate during the 1950s in the US.
"She was always concerned about racial discrimination in the US, in fact as a performer she refused to play for segregated audiences," Newton adds.
To prove that racial harmony was possible, Baker also adopted 12 children from around the globe.
In the '60s, she suffered a stroke and never recovered, passing away in 1975.
Yet, her legacy continues.
She's not only being honored at the Missouri History Museum but there's also a mural of her in St. Louis Wall of Fame in the Grove neighborhood.
With a monument featuring her name along with other St. Louis influencers in the Ville neighborhood.
While it's a big day in France, it's a moment shining so bright, the pride is felt here a place, where she's rooted.
If you'd like to visit the St. Louis Sound exhibit, it will be up and running until January 2023.
To donate to the museum, you can click here.
It's currently raising funds to stabilize and clean a window to display it in their upcoming exhibit called Coloring STL.
It's a stained glass window from one of the “floating palaces” that traveled the Mississippi River during the Steamboat Era.
The exhibit opening in 2022 will allow visitors to learn stories about the local architecture while coloring right on the walls of the Missouri History Museum.