Josephine Baker was a vocal supporter of racial equality. There were many times during her life when she stood up for tolerance and against racism.
Josephine was an extraordinary woman, and some of her life choices and ambitions were extraordinary too. Josephine was unable to have children of her own, so she undertook an unprecedented way to become a mother. In 1953 following ten years of planning Josephine and her husband Jo Bouillon began to adopt children from all around the world. The family became known as her ‘Rainbow Tribe’, and her idealist concept of harmony among a family from many different nations was born.
Josephine encouraged each child to retain their cultural customs and their language. Saying, “I will make every effort so that each shows the utmost respect for the opinions and beliefs of the other,” Baker claimed. “I want to show people of colour that not all whites are cruel and mean. I will prove that human beings can respect each other if given the chance.”
The 12 children were raised at Les Milandes, a 15th century chateau in southern France. Josephine turned the chateau in to a pleasure park, with rides and a circus, not only for the adopted children, but for those who may wish to visit and see them. The result was a self-contained theme park. A vision of an alternate world in which magic and fantasy were real and to Josephines mind it was a positive vision of the future.
People came to see this spectacle, and the children were expected to be available to visitors. This created pressure and was exhausting for the children. Her son Jarry told the press in 2009 that the children sometimes felt like pets.
Josephine regarded the family as a United Nations, rich with linguistic, religious, racial and national diversity. She believed in diversity that went far beyond skin tone. But by the Seventies, her concept was outdated and did not fit with the political climate. The idealistic marches were over, the world was drifting toward a future in which Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe seemed like a quaint reminder of a distant past.
Josephine’s aims may now seem naive, but were born from her endless drive for equality for all.
We share a vision of love and tolerance, as Josephine did.