In the Timeline of African American Music, scholar Douglas Henry Daniels offers several meditations on jazz, a type of music that is both wholly its own thing but also blurs the lines of genre. https://t.co/k5JpQiQfi0— JSTOR Daily (@JSTOR_Daily) December 31, 2022
As the United States marks only the second federally recognized Juneteenth, Black Americans living overseas have embraced the holiday as a day of reflection and an opportunity to educate people in their host countries on Black history. President Joe Biden moved quickly last year to federally recognize the day Black Americans have been celebrating since the last enslaved people were told they were free in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. In Liberia, Saqar Ahhah Ahershu, 45, from Jersey City, New Jersey, organized the country’s first “Journey Home Festival.” “Because this is part of that hidden African American history that still hasn’t been completely unpacked,” he said in Monrovia. Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, was founded by freed slaves repatriated to West Africa from the United States in 1822, exactly 200 years ago this year. The weekend event includes a trip to Providence Island, where former slaves settled before moving into what is now mainland Monrovia. While there are no official statistics tracking Black Americans moving abroad, many are discussing it more openly after the police killing of George Floyd. In the aftermath, many African Americans saw the U.S. “from the outside in” and made up their minds not to return. Tashina Ferguson, a 26-year-old debate coach, was living in New York at the time of Eric Garner’s death. She moved to South Korea in 2019 and planned to celebrate Juneteenth on Sunday with a group of drag performers at a fundraising brunch for the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. She has mixed feeling about the newest federal holiday. “The commerciality of Juneteenth has become this like whole, ‘Put it on a T-shirt, put it on ice cream tubs’ type of thing,” she said. “But as a Black person within the Black community I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s celebrate us.'” She said that only a powerful change would make her consider returning to the U.S. Chrishan Wright in New Jersey regularly speaks with Black Americans who plan to or already have made the move abroad. Wright, 47, hosts the podcast “Blaxit Global” and said many of her guests are tired of the U.S. “They’ve done all the things to achieve what is supposed to be the American dream, and that yardstick keeps moving. They don’t feel like they’re on solid ground in terms of being able to retire comfortably or pay off student debt or just cover their bills.” Wright plans to move in 2023 to Portugal. Through her podcast, she already knows of Juneteenth celebrations this weekend in Lisbon, the capital. In some places with larger populations of Black Americans, Juneteenth is already part of the program. LaTonya Whitaker, from Mississippi, has lived in Japan for 17 years. She is executive director of Legacy Foundation Japan, which hosted a Juneteenth gathering of about 300 people at the ritzy Tokyo American Club on Saturday. She and her husband David didn’t plan to live in Japan. Like Whitaker, many Black Americans at the Juneteenth event came to Japan almost by coincidence, as Christian missionaries or Peace Corps volunteers. But they made Japan their home. She now wants to raise their son there because she worries about gun violence in the U.S. “I realized we really need a community,” said Whitaker. Michael Williams teaches African American history at Temple University in Tokyo and left the U.S. when he was 22. He’s now 66 and had lived abroad for much of his adult life, but returned to the U.S. for graduate school in Boston and Baltimore. America has changed so much, he feels like a tourist when he visits, he laughed. Williams said he knows about Juneteenth from teaching history. “I would always end my presentations that hopefully, someday, this would be a national holiday. And so now it is, and it feels great,” he said. In Taipei, Toi Windham and Casey Abbott Payne are holding multiple events to celebrate Juneteenth. The two, part of Black Lives Matter Taiwan, are hosting performances by Black artists and musicians. Both have celebrated with their families long before it was a federal holiday. Windham has lived in Taiwan for five years, and had always celebrated Juneteenth growing up in Texas. For her, it’s an opportunity to educate people about a different part of American culture, even the darker parts. “A lot of people tend to enjoy hip-hop culture and the attire and certain parts of our culture, but I feel like it’s important to acknowledge all parts of Black culture,” she said. Payne, an organizer, has lived in Taiwan for 11 years and said he also celebrated Juneteenth growing up in Milwaukee, which has one of the oldest celebrations nationwide. “As a kid, I remember the street being lined with street vendors, and there’s music going on and there’d be the Juneteenth parade rolling through,” he said. Still for others, the day is a chance to joyfully kick back and rest. In Bangkok, a group called Ebony Expats organized a silent movie screening, a bike ride in a nature reserve and a dinner at a Jamaican restaurant serving jerk chicken and pumpkin soup. Restaurant owner Collin Clifford McKoy served 20 years in the U.S. Army before eventually opening his restaurant during the pandemic in Thailand. He said the Juneteenth holiday is a chance for Black people to share their culture while being so far from home, American or not. “Overall, it’s about coming together regardless of where we are, and it tells how much blood runs deep as a community to come together and enjoy ourselves,” he said. ___ Associated Press writers Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia, contributed to this report.
The Continuing Importance of Thomas Sowell
American Josephine Baker is 1st Black woman in France’s Pantheon monument
the Associated Press
France is inducting Josephine Baker — Missouri-born cabaret dancer, French World War II spy and civil rights activist — into its Pantheon, the first Black woman honored in the final resting place of France’s most revered luminaries.
On Tuesday, a coffin carrying soils from the U.S., France and Monaco — places where Baker made her mark — will be deposited inside the domed Pantheon monument overlooking the Left Bank of Paris. Her body will stay in Monaco, at the request of her family.
French President Emmanuel Macron decided on her entry into the Pantheon, responding to a petition. In addition to honoring an exceptional figure in French history, the move is meant to send a message against racism and celebrate U.S.-French connections.
“She embodies, before anything, women’s freedom,” Laurent Kupferman, the author of the petition for the move, told The Associated Press.
Baker was born in 1906, in St. Louis. At 19, having already divorced twice, had relationships with men and women, and started a performing career, she moved to France following a job opportunity.
“She arrives in France in 1925, she’s an emancipated woman, taking her life in her hands, in a country of which she doesn’t even speak the language,” Kupferman said.
She met immediate success on the Theatre des Champs-Elysees stage, where she appeared topless and wearing a famed banana belt. Her show, embodying the colonial time’s racist stereotypes about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.
“She was that kind of fantasy: not the Black body of an American woman but of an African woman,” Theatre des Champs-Elysees spokesperson Ophélie Lachaux told the AP. “And that’s why they asked Josephine to dance something ‘tribal,’ ‘savage,’ ‘African’-like.”
Baker’s career took a more serious turn after that, as she learned to speak five languages and toured internationally. She became a French citizen after her marriage in 1937 to industrialist Jean Lion, a Jewish man who later suffered from anti-Semitic laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime.
In September 1939, as France and Britain declared war against Nazi Germany, Baker got in touch with the head of the French counterintelligence services.
She started working as an informant, traveling, getting close to officials and sharing information hidden on her music sheets, according to French military archives.
Researcher and historian Géraud Létang said Baker lived “a double life between, on the one side, the music hall artist, and on the other side, another secret life, later becoming completely illegal, of intelligence agent.”
After France’s defeat in June 1940, she refused to play for the Nazis who occupied Paris and moved to southwestern France. She continued to work for the
French Resistance, using her artistic performances as a cover for her spying activities.
That year, she notably brought into her troupe several spies working for the Allies, allowing them to travel to Spain and Portugal. “She risks the death penalty or, at least, the harsh repression of the Vichy regime or of the Nazi occupant,” Letang said.
The next year, seriously ill, Baker left France for North Africa, where she gathered intelligence for Gen. Charles De Gaulle, including spying on the British and the Americans — who didn’t fully trust him and didn’t share all information.
She also raised funds, including from her personal money. It is estimated she brought the equivalent of $11.2 million to support the French Resistance.
In 1944, Baker joined a female group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army as a second lieutenant. The group’s logbook notably mentions a 1944 incident off the coast of Corsica, when Senegalese soldiers from colonial troops fighting in the French Liberation Army helped Baker out of the sea. After her plane had to make an emergency landing, they brought “the shipwrecked to the shores, on their large shoulders, Josephine Baker in the front,” the logbook writes.
Baker also organized concerts for soldiers and civilians near combat zones. After the defeat of the Nazis, she went to Germany to sing for former prisoners and deportees freed from the camps.
“Baker’s involvement in politics was individual and atypical,” said Benetta Jules-Rosette, a leading scholar on Baker’s life and a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego.
After the war, Baker got involved in anti-racist politics. She fought against American segregation during a 1951 performance tour of the U.S., causing her to be targeted by the FBI, labeled a communist and banned from her homeland for a decade. The ban was lifted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and she returned to be the only woman to speak at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.
Back in France, she adopted 12 children from all over the world, creating a “rainbow tribe” to embody her ideal of “universal fraternity.” She purchased a castle and land in the southwestern French town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, where she tried to build a city embodying her values.
“My mother saw the success of the rainbow tribe, because when we caused trouble as kids, she would never know who had done it because we never ratted on each other, risking collective punishment,” one of Baker’s sons, Brian Bouillon Baker, told the AP. “I heard her say to some friends ‘I’m mad to never know who causes trouble, but I’m happy and proud that my kids stand united.’ ”
Toward the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her properties. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live.
She rebuilt her career but in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of a comeback tour, she fell into a coma and passed away from a brain hemorrhage. She was buried in Monaco.
While Baker is widely appreciated in France, some critics of Macron question why he chose an American-born figure as the first Black woman in the Pantheon, instead of someone who rose up against racism and colonialism in France itself.
The Pantheon, built at the end of the 18th century, honors 72 men and five women, including Baker. She joins two other Black figures in the mausoleum: Gaullist resister Felix Eboué and famed writer Alexandre Dumas.
“These are people who have committed themselves, especially to others,” Pantheon administrator David Medec told the AP. “It is not only excellence in a field of competence, it is really the question of commitment, commitment to others.”