You must have heard of a lot of rags to riches stories, you might have even been inspired by them. This story is not just one of the rags to riches. It is a real-life story of a woman who defied all odds and went on to become one of the most famous figures of the 20th century not only in the field of entertainment but also the Second World War. This is a story of struggle, defiance, and triumph, brewed with the fair share of hardships, betrayals, and disappointment.
Josephine Baker was not accepted by her own country, America because of her race; instead of letting that deter her, she went on to become a queen, a hero.
Josephine Baker was not born into riches. She came from a poor background. She was born on June 3, 1906, as Freda Josephine McDonald. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri in a rundown area. She was adopted and her adoptive parents? They were slaves. She had no clue who her real father was, and her stepfather never had a stable income. These were the conditions she was brought up in.
Carrie, Josephine’s mother, was a performer. To make ends meet she used to go around the town to perform her song and dance act. She could not leave an infant behind so she had no option but to take the baby along. When she was one, even then Josephine was on the stage with her mom. This was her preparation for the future, but there was no knowing. These were her baby steps towards fame.
Rags Before Riches
St. Louis was not exactly a respectable place back in the early 20th century. The neighborhood had brothels and the conditions of houses were not even normal; any households did not even have proper plumbing. This is where Josephine Baker grew up; in this segregated, low-class area. To make the situations worse, Josephine’s adoptive mother kept on having children, which meant there were more mouths to feed. The consequence was that Josephine often went to bed hungry.
One can imagine that if Josephine came from such a humble background and grew up among a large number of kids she did not have the fanciest of clothes. Mostly her clothes were dirty, second hand and very basic. Neither she nor people around her could have known that she would get to wear the most gorgeous and fabulous clothes of the time. But how did she get there? And what role did she play in the war?
The Struggle To Survive
The situation at Josephine’s home only worsened as she grew older. By the age of 8, she had to start working in order to help her mother earn a living. Josephine started cleaning homes and faced a lot of discrimination and prejudice. Life for Blacks and Creoles was not easy at that time and she too faced the brunt for that. There was such a desperate need to support herself that she had to drop out of school, or was rather forced to do it.
Even having a safe and cozy home was something Josephine could not even dream of taking for granted. The situation had become such that she had to sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets. She scavenged for her food in the garbage cans at all times. When she could not take it anymore she decided that there was an immediate need to change things. She had to find an escape from living like this.