The first time I met her was at the Bogner store in Munich. I was a young actress and fashion model, she was in her mid 50s, already a legend. She came up to me, paid me a few compliments and realizing my failure to recognize her, said “I’m Josephine Baker.” Well, I was struck dumb. I knew who the legendary Josephine Baker was, but words failed me when I had her suddenly in front of me. The best I could do was smile at her meekly. She nodded, understanding my failure to utter a word, returned the smile and then left with her entourage. A few weeks later I had a modeling gig in at the Casino in Baden Baden for one of Germany’s preeminent jewelers, Karl Friedrich. Ms. Baker also performed that evening. During intermission I introduced myself to her; remembering me, she invited me into her dressing room, a surprising gesture for someone who led a rather private life. The beautiful singer wanted to know what had brought me to Europe, and I shared with her some of the details of my life. She made no mention of her “Rainbow Tribe,” and I did not ask about them. It was generally believed that she had to continue working to support the chateau in the South of France where the dozen or so internationally adopted children lived.
Josephine Baker experienced the vicious racism in the US and once in Europe, never looked back. When she visited the States she was an outspoken advocate for racial equality. So much so, that some claimed she adopted the children from all corners of the world to prove that peoples of different races can live harmoniously with each other. Did she love them, really, or did take them to underline a political statement? How do they remember their famous mother? Did they ever consider her their mother? Where are they now? And I wonder, is she the only Black woman to adopt a White child? Have Black families adopted White children?
I have not read about such a custom in African literature. It intrigues me… I’ll consult with my African friends and see what light they can shed on this question. Stay tuned, it will be interesting.