Josephine Baker

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“A violinist has his violin, a painter his palette.  All I had was myself.  I was the instrument I must care for.”
-Josephine Baker

3 June 1906 – 12 April 1975

Josephine was an American-born dancer, singer, and actress.  Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, she became a citizen of France in 1937.  Fluent in both English and French, Baker became an international musical and political icon.  She was given such nicknames as the “Bronze Venus”, the “Black Pearl”, and the “Creole Goddess”.

Baker was the first African-American female to star in a motion picture, Zouzou (1934), to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world-famous entertainer.  She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, for assisting the French Resistance during World War II, and for receiving the French military honor, the Croix de guerre.

After King’s assassination, his widow Coretta Scott King approached Baker in Holland to ask if she would take her husband’s place as leader of the American Civil Rights Movement.  After many days of thinking it over, Baker declined, saying her children (she had twelve children, all of which were adopted) were “too young to lose their mother.”

Rosa Parks

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This year for Black History Month I’m going to highlight a different player in the steady march towards civil rights.  These women were strong and steadfast in their belief in equality, and they still have plenty to teach us today.  Regardless of how you feel about black history being relegated to a single month, this is important American history and we’d do well to keep these lessons in mind as we continue to fight for equality.

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
-Rosa Parks

4 February 1913 – 24 October 2005

Mrs. Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress called “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement.”  She’s most well known for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama on 1 December 1955.  This act of civil defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols in the Civil Rights Movements.

After her many years of service to the cause of equality she received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.  Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman — and second non-U.S. government official — to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.