Josephine Baker | St. Louis Public Radio

Josephine Baker

Sherry Jones (at left) is the author of "Josephine Baker's Last Dance," her latest historical novel about a "kick-ass" woman from history.
Simon & Schuster

Before she became a celebrity, a war hero and civil rights activist, Josephine Baker was a girl growing up in early 20th-century St. Louis. Historical fiction writer Sherry Jones has a new book out inspired by Baker’s remarkable life and is headed to her late heroine’s hometown this week to discuss it at Left Bank Books.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Jones talked about the book, “Josephine Baker’s Last Dance,” and the woman behind it, with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy D. Goodwin.

Josephine Baker, who grew up in the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood and lived much of her adult life in France, is the focus of an episode of “The Nod.”
Jac. de Nijs | Dutch National Archives

Josephine Baker is remembered for being many different things over the course of her remarkable life – a burlesque performer, a film actress, an activist, even a war hero. Less well known is the St. Louis-born celebrity’s role as a mother to 12 ethnically diverse children she began adopting in the 1950s as her “rainbow tribe.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 2, 2009 - Gail Milissa Grant barely realized she had won.

"All I heard was, 'At the'," she said, recalling last Thursday night in New York when her memoir "At the Elbows of My Elders: One Family's Journey Toward Civil Rights" won the top Benjamin Franklin award for memoir and autobiography.

Josephine Baker honored with stamp

Jul 15, 2008
postage stamp honoring Josephine Baker. 2008. 300 pixels
Provided by the Postal Service

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 15, 2008 - On July 2 1917, 11-year-old Freda Josephine McDonald witnessed the horrors of the East St. Louis race riots.

As reported in Harper Barnes' book, "Never Been a Time," her brother Richard asked, "Is there a storm coming, Mama?"

"No, not a storm, child, it's the whites." 

Newspaper photo from "made in USA: East St. Louis" (Virginia Publishing), by Andrew Theising 300 pixels  2008
St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 27, 2008 - Note from the author:

July 2, 2008, is the 91st anniversary of the East St. Louis race riot, the first and officially the deadliest of a series of devastating racial battles that swept through American cities in the World War I era.

Racial memory: Clear as black and white

Jun 27, 2008
Photo by Olivr Nurock

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 27, 2008 - In the past four years, since I began work on my new book on the terrible 1917 East St. Louis race riot, my wife and I have told hundreds of people from the St. Louis area about the project, and have discovered a fact that is both remarkable and thoroughly understandable.

In general, white people, even those who have lived in this area for most or all of their lives, have never heard of the riot - a riot that arguably was the deadliest of the 20th century.