Josephine Baker was an African-American expatriate who renounced her US citizenship to become a French national. Her early career as an erotic dancer at the Folies Bergere in Paris earned her fame all over Europe, as she performed in a costume consisting of only a girdle of bananas. In later performances she sometimes appeared with Chiquita, her pet cheetah. She became a favorite of famous Americans living in Europe, namely Ernest Hemingway, who called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”
She refused to perform for segregated audience in the United States, but contributed greatly to the Civil Rights Movement.
She did not attain the popularity in the United States that she so enjoyed in Europe, and, heartbroken, she returned to Paris.
Later, she was received well here for a while, but, ever an activist for people’s rights, she fell out of favor again with certain people, and was revered by others.
In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. After King’s assassination, Coretta Scott King went to the Netherlands, where Baker now lived, and asked her to lead the Civil Rights Movement. She declined for the sake of her children.