On a Military Funeral

Full military funerals are usually only reserved for, well, soldiers who have shown exemplary service to their countries or national heroes and the like. They are rarely given to women. In the case of a particular funeral in 1975, in France, a woman indeed received full military honors—the only time that has happened in French history.

Who was she?

Well, I can tell you that she wasn’t born in France. In fact, this woman was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906. She dropped out of school at age 12. By 13, the girl was practically living on the street, and she found work as a waitress. There, in the restaurant, still at age 13, she met and married a much older man. By the time she reached the ripe old age of 15, she had left that first husband and married a second one.

Yes, I’m sure that this is the woman who received the accolades and appreciation of the French government at her death.

Want to know more? Sure. This woman was accused by newsman Walter Winchell of being an active Communist in the 1950s. She met and became friendly with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960s. Clergymen and morality enforcers protested against her. She had public and well-publicized affairs with both men and women across several decades. At the end of her life, she had to rely on the kindness of others for a place to live and for her basic needs.

And this is the woman France chose to honor?


Because, as well as those things renumerated above, this amazing woman was also recognized as a hero of the French Republic. She had help to organize and lead French resistance groups against the Nazis in World War II. She’d left the United States and moved to Paris in the mid-1920s, and she fell in love with the country and its people. She worked tirelessly for the downtrodden, the voiceless, and orphans—even adopting several children over the course of her life. As you have guessed, this woman was famous as a singer and performer. She rubbed elbows with the rich and famous across all of Europe and much of the world. She became beloved and much respected, admired, and imitated in France.

Ironically, it was her home country of America that rejected her. She would point to this rejection as a major reason for her decision to move to France in the first place. Yes, the United States would not let her even have a cup of coffee at a lunch counter in a café or enter a hotel through the front door.

That’s because this woman, so lauded and appreciated by her adopted nation of France, was still only a Black woman to American society. Yes, when Josephine Baker died, France showed its appreciation for its adopted daughter, even if her native United States had rejected her.

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