Black Paris Divas Honored Guests at Josephine Baker Celebration in Dordogne, France

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The African American heritage tour group participates in historical centennial celebrating the life of the legendary entertainer.

Black Paris Divas travel group were the honored guests at the 100th anniversary commemoration of Josephine Baker’s birth, celebrated in her adopted homeland of Dordogne, in southwest France.

On Saturday June 3rd, in front of celebrities and politicians, flag-bearing ex-combatants, local residents, and Josephine Baker’s eldest son, Black Paris Diva member Robin Bates presented an honorary letter from the NAACP to the Alain Bogaert, president of Opération Joséphine, the association behind the project. The exchange exalted Ms. Baker’s political engagement as demonstrated through her participation in the NAACP’s 1963 March On Washington as well as her spying activities for the French Resistance during World War II, for which she decorated with the Medal of Resistance and the Legion of Honor.

Under an azure Perigord sky and blazing sun more than 600 people attended the official ceremony that began with the unveiling of a life-size bronze statue of The Black Pearl. It depicts a mature, maternal Ms. Baker with her arms wound tightly around a young child. Baker and her husband, bandleader Jo Bouillon, adopted twelve children of different nationalities between 1954 and 1964. Akio Bouillon-Baker, their first adopted child, told the Sud-Ouest newspaper that sculptress Chouski perfectly captured the message of the universal mother figure his mother lived fully. In the 1950s Baker created a World Village to global brotherhood in this tiny corner of Perigord, as well as a thriving theme park complete with hotel, pool, restaurants and many attractions enjoyed by streams of tourists and locals.

Josephine is remembered fondly by Perigordians for her personal warmth and generous spirit. Many approached the African-American tourists to recount stories such as passing La Grande Dame as she shopped in a nearby town ‘just like everyone else’. They also expressed their surprise and appreciation that her countrymen and women had made the pilgrimage. Black Paris Divas regularly organizes trips to visit the permanent exhibit at The Black Venus’ Chateau des Milandes, just up the hill, but this excursion marked a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both sides. It allowed French and Americans to share their mutual gratitude and raise a glass of specially labeled champagne to the multifaceted woman who bridged Black and French culture in the most personal and enduring of ways.

The memorial to Josephine Baker stands permanently on one-third of an acre of open terrain in the community of Castelnaud. It is both practical and a site of reverence. With its statue in the centre flanked by a boardwalk in the shape of a J, the site includes the original guardian’s stone hut renovated into an information centre of Ms. Baker’s life. The shelter also doubles as a rest stop for hikers, and personifies Ms. Baker’s lifelong concern: a bus shelter that serves children from the Children’s Centre across the road.

For further information on joining the next Black Paris Divas eight-day Culture, Cuisine, and Josephine excursion, visit Black Paris Divas online at http://www.blackparisdivas.com

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