Arriving in the United States in 1930, Josephine Baker was not welcomed by a uniformed America, who saw her as a threat of exoticism and coloured impurity. But after becoming one of the first black people to dance professionally, and famously performing on the White House lawn for the president, she made her way to France, became a gay icon, and won an Oscar for her contributions to the movie version of Purlie Victorious.
Josephine Baker was born Essanay Baker in Havana on 30 September 1893 in a family of slaves. But at the age of three, Josephine was taken by her mother to America to be raised by the Caribbean’s first-ever black family.
The slave slaves in the Dominican Republic grew pepper, green beans and sugar cane that fetched £2 a tonne in the US; the white owners in the US sold it on to Brussels for £3 a tonne. What Baker’s family lacked in income, they made up for in their hospitality and charm.
At the age of 12, she took to the sea as a maid at a mansion in Boston harbour. Months later, Josephine joined up with the Black Platoon, a team of resistance fighters formed in South Boston, later known as the Mother Incinerator, to seize taxes and enter the US military with the aim of liberating the slaves in Cuba and Puerto Rico.