Posts Tagged Civil Rights Activist

Shownotes Episode 35: Josephine Baker, Part Two

Posted 21 January 2013 by
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In this episode we continue our chat about the many acts in the life of Josephine Baker. When we went to intermission, Ms Baker was touring  the world as an entertainment superstar with the help of her manager/fake husband/fake Count, Pepito Abatino. The one place that she had left to embrace her was her native country, the good ol’ US of A. When the house lights went up we were biting our nails! Would her homeland love and appreciate her as much as the people of other continents? Could Josephine go home?

Act Three

(It’s 1934 and Josephine  is taking the stage at the Ziegfield Follies in New York expecting a warm and loving response)

Crickets chirp.

Josephine didn’t have to get far onto US soil before she faced racial prejudice. As a ‘married” couple she and Pepito could share a hotel room, but not an entry door into the hotel. Her performances were not met with a warm reception for a variety of reasons: she danced with white male partners, her level of undress made audiences uncomfortable, and the songs that she was required to sing were not suitable for her voice. Her part in the show was your basic hot mess. Josephine blamed Pepito and sent him away, back to France ending their ten year relationship…and quite possibly his life. He was hospitalized and died of unknown causes a few weeks later. Stomach cancer or a broken heart?

Josephine got out of her contract and the US as quickly as possible. Shortly afterward she married Jean Lion, a wealthy French businessman. With this marriage she legally became a French citizen and had hopes of becoming a mother. Jean apparently had high hopes of her becoming his most fabulous accessory, a trophy wife. But first, Josephine must say good-bye to her public and set off on a farewell tour.

The only thing that fully got the good-bye and farewell part is the marriage; it doesn’t last long.

But our newly minted French citizen had some very important work in her future. WWII began and she volunteered to assist the war effort for her country. Her touring  continued from country to country with one major difference: She was doing it as a spy for the French Resistance.  She used her lifestyle of hobnobbing with those in the know to get intel and smuggled it back with her hat boxes and costumes, and eventually raised in ranks within the French Free Air Force.

Josephine in uniform

As always we go into much more detail in the podcast but essentially her spy duties came to a halt when she was hospitalized in Casablanca for 19 months.

But that wasn’t the end of  the war efforts of our heroine! Once recuperated, she went back on the road, this time  helping to spread a message of brotherly love by entertaining racially integrated audiences of soldiers. Ultimately she received two prestigious awards for her work in the war, the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance. And by the end of the war, she entered her fourth marriage, to her band conductor- Jo Boullion.

The war ws over, but Josephine still has some fight in her. At this point in her life, she directed it toward the fight for racial equality. She not only had lofty goals she had big…no, massive plans.

First she and Jo remodeled an old castle she named Les Milandes, in the south of France, into a tourist destination with a theme of brotherly love. This pricey undertaking required some capital, so off she went on another world tour. This time she was confronted with more racial barriers and opportunities for her to use her celebrity. One, an incident in New York’s famous Stork Club that involved then popular newscaster, Walter Winchell, got her banned from reentering the US for many years. (It’s a doozie, and we gossip on about the details in the podcast)

Next up, Josephine embarked on a plan to finally put herself in the role of a lifetime: Mother. She and Jo began to adopt babies of all colors and nationalities from around the world. They named the TWELVE children, The Rainbow Tribe.

Jo and Josephine with their young, and as yet incomplete, tribe

But it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for this unique family.

Act Four

(Open on Jo driving away from Les Milandes, Josephine and 12 stunned children left in his wake)

Josephine and Jo didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things. Ahem, many - but one important one being the children: How many? How to raise them? When was enough enough?  When Josephine was on tour, the children were raised by Jo and a series of nannies at Les Milandes. Mama would breeze in, sometimes with a new brother or sister- take a few pictures, love on them all, then go back on the road. The costs of the constant renovations to the castle were astronomical, and eventually she was so far in debt she couldn’t get ahead. Jo couldn’t understand her, deal with her, take it- whatever his reasons, he left  - although they never divorced.

On one hand she had this falling down resort that is getting her more and more in debt each day and is filled with her very large  family.

The tribe has grown and are growing up

On the other hand, she was doing civil rights work all over the world as she was touring .  She even spoke with Martin Luther King, Jr at the March on Washington as the only official woman speaker.

Josephine at the March on Washington

So what hand won?

Josephine after being forced out of Les Milandes

Not Les Milandes. She got physically tossed out of it. But that’s again, not the end. Over the next few years, in not so short order:  Princess Grace  rescued her, helped set her up in a sweet villa in Monaco and funds a comeback show.

Opening night in Paris. It’s April, 1975 and Josephine is 68 years old. Does the old girl still have what it takes, or has Paris already seen the best she had to offer years before? Is she a washed up has-been, or a timeless superstar?

When the reviews came in the roaring cry was… Superstar!

Josephine was back on the stage, the cheers of the crowd ringing in her ears- she was a success.

The next day, no one could wake her as she lay among her rave reviews in the papers. She would never awake again.  Within the week she was declared dead of a brain hemorrhage on April 12, 1975.

Josephine's funeral procession through the streets of Paris

Fin

TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS

Chateau des Milandes


You can visit Les Milandes without ever leaving your house! This is a really fun website and one of the few where we don’t mind music. Les Milandes Website.

If you are leaving your house and headed to New York, maybe you can dine at Chez Josephine, NYC.

Although her life really reads like a movie, this is the one movie that we could get our hands on: 1991 The Josephine Baker Story starring Lynn Whitfield.

We know you like your books and here are the ones that we recommend for this woman:

Children's book: Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Middle Grade-Josephine Baker: Entertainer by Alan Schroeder

Have your own compare and contrast fest with these three biographies:

The Josephine Baker Story by Ean Wood

Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase

Josephine by Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillion

Josephine Baker: Image and Icon by Olivia Gonzales

As always, our music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at Music.mevio.com

Shownotes Episode 25: Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Posted 12 May 2012 by
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Ida B. Wells- born a slave, educated in a post-Civil War south and left to care for her family at an early age. She grew to become a teacher, a writer, a crusader, a suffragist, a wife and mother. A woman of  strength and character who dared to speak up and challenge those who desired to oppress others , even when her own safety was at risk.

How could we not talk about a woman like this?

Ida was born on July 16, 1862, the first of eight children to Jim and Lizzy Wells in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Her father was the son of a plantation owner and one of his slaves; her mother a slave. As always, please know that we go into so much more detail in the podcast- the early life story of Ida’s parents is really remarkable, but what they did at the end of the Civil War is even more so.

Jim, a skilled and trained carpenter and Lizzy a highly sought after cook, put down roots and took advantage of the post war opportunities that were presented to them. Ida and her siblings were all sent to school, all raised to be hardworking, respectable and full of faith.

It was a wonderful story of pulling themselves up and being role models for their children, until a Yellow Fever epidemic hit when Ida was 16. The illness took the life of both of her parents as well as that of a young brother. She stepped up and assumed the role as head of the family. She lied about her age to get a teaching job, enlisted the help of some extended family members and did what a lot of female head of families do now: she made it work.

A young and determined Ida

After a few years, Ida couldn’t take the stress and pressures of the lifestyle. At this point, her siblings were getting older and some could support themselves. She had a physically handicapped sister that required live-in assistance and was sent to an aunt’s home to live.  Ida took her two youngest sisters and moved to the big city of Memphis, Tennessee to live with another aunt.

Confederate money issued from Holly Springs.

With some of the responsibility off of her, Ida took another teaching job and breathed, just a little. She enjoyed all that the city had to offer and lived the life of a young woman interested in the arts, learning, and making new friends.

But it didn’t take very long for her to realize that she had more to do than attend concerts. One day,while commuting via train, she was asked to leave the Ladies’ Car for another, less comfortable one. Ida had purchased a first class ticket, as she always did, and ignored the wishes of the conductor for her to leave her first class seat- as she always did when this happened.

Only this time, the conductor didn’t ignore her and physically tried to move her. Kicking and biting and fighting back, this tiny woman stood her ground. And got kicked off the train for her efforts.

The ensuing court battle was only the beginning of the life as a political activist for Ida Wells. When she became dismayed at the inferior conditions of the school system that she worked in, she spoke up. She began writing in church newspapers about the  racial disparity in the Memphis schools. And ultimately lost her job because of it. But she wasn’t done crusading for what was right.

Ida had heard about lynching, of course she had. This was the post Civil War south, but like a lot of people, she had assumed that the vigilante “justice” that was carried out was justified. Until it happened to people that she knew. Good people.

Enraged, she began to write for (and eventually ended up being a part owner of) a newspaper called The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight (later shortened to Free Speech).

This type of career- held by a woman, a black women in a racially charged South- made Ida a target. She eventually was forced to flee Memphis and landed in Chicago.

This is the part where we get to talk about her love, attorney Ferdinand Barnett who is particularly suited to sharing his life with this strong, determined, unshy woman. We talk about her life as a wife and mother, and her never ending and far reaching efforts to end lynching.

Ida with her children, courtesy of University of Chicago

Her life continued to be one of championing causes and we do cover all that in the podcast. But in addition to her anti-lynching crusade she was a suffragist, and a founder of many organizations including the NAACP. She even staged an unsuccessful run for the Illinois State Senate!

I

Ida and Ferdinand surrounded by kids and grandchildren

Although the organizations that she helped found began to turn their backs on her, Ida Wells-Barnett worked hard until just prior to her death at age 68  in 1931.

Time Travel With The History Chicks

Ida’s family maintains a website in her honor. Find out more information about her life, get directions and information about the Ida Wells Museum in Holly Springs, click  links to the Ida B.Wells Foundation and buy a t-shirt. Yes, a t-shirt. Oh, or a mug.

Ida B. Wells Museum in Holly Springs, MS

Books! Here are the ones that we recommend:

To Tell the Truth Freely, by Mia Bay

Ida Wells Memphis Diary, edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis

They Say by, James West Davidson

Ida Wells: A sword Among Lions by, Paula J. Giddings

Here is a link to Project Guttenberg. It’s an online resource of free ebooks. This link should take you to the available Ida B.Wells  publications. For *sing it* freeeeeee!

Want to peek at her Chicago house? A peek is all you can get, it’s a private residence, but that didn’t stop the National Park Service from making a page about her and the house. We love nps.gov.

You know what else we love? A good  PBS American Experience and here is a very good one about the Reconstruction period.

As always, music comes courtesty of Music Alley. Visit them at music.mevio.com