Both Josephine Baker and Florence Mills were powerful fighters against injustice and racism. These power puff girls fought through song and dance. They cared little for societal norms and believed all humans to be the same below their skin. Baker adopted children of many nationalities and called her family the rainbow tribe. Both were born poor, Florence to former slaves and Josephine to a washerwoman. Both had faced bigotry as children. Josephine was told by households where she baby-sat children not to kiss them. Good enough to care, but not good enough to show love to. Yet, the two of them spunky and outspoken, through the sheer power of their talent shone brightly and fought for the rights of the underprivileged and discriminated. Both were deeply admired and loved for who they were and what they stood for.
Josephine Baker lived between 1906to 1975. Josephine’s many achievements include taking jazz to France and the rest of Europe. She donated to orphanages and to the poor. She helped cheer the troops during World War II and worked as a member of the Resistance. She spoke vocally against racism prevalent in America, as well as equal rights for all.
She aspired for universal amity and brotherhood.
Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.
Children can read about her life in Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Baker’s life is now available in picture book form. Written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by the hugely talented Christian Robinson.
The odds were stacked against Josephine and yet she went on to become one of the most celebrated performers in Europe when her country America refused to see her talent beyond the colour of her skin.
Take a look at the book trailer by Chronicle Books:
Christian Robinson has also illustrated the book Renee Watson’s Harlem’s Little Blackbird.
Florence Mill’s sweet voice was discovered and celebrated when she was a child. Once she was invited to perform on stage but her family was refused entry for not being white. Florence refused to perform till her family and friends were allowed in too. She performed with her elder sisters and they were known as The Mill Sisters. Over time her sisters stopped performing. Florence was invited to London to perform. The bigotry and racism were evident when fellow travellers on the liner on which she and her troupe were travelling, refused to have their meals with them in the dining room for being coloured. Imagine that!
But when Florence sang, they forgot her colour and their own and started to dine with her. Such was the power of Florence’s song. She could turn hate into love. Florence never forgot those weaker than her and between performances, she always found the time to help people who couldn’t help themselves. She fell sick with tuberculosis and died at a very young 31 years. Her life had touched so many people and the large numbers of people at her funeral were not those who admired her performances alone, but her kind, loving heart.
Both Florence and Josephine may have been born poor, but they left the world far richer than they found it and gave courage to those who followed them that no dream was impossible.