She wasn’t born Josephine Baker. She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 to a washerwoman. It was not a great time to be black, born illegitimately to a washerwoman and living in the American South.
I don’t think any time has ever been a good time to be named Freda.
Although, technically, she was African American/Native American, which at the time just meant “you’d probably be best leaving America altogether.”
At the age of 8 she began babysitting for white families, one of whom reminded her that she “should not kiss the baby”, because they worried that her color might rub off. When she put too much soap in the laundry, her hands were burnt to teach her not to do it again. She also slept in the cellar. With the dog. Harry Potter presumably had the nicer room.
Josephine later said, “I was taught to believe that I was inferior like many, many colored peoples of the world, who are taught, every day, to feel that they are inferior to white people.”
When she was 10, though, something happened that may have changed her life. A medicine man passing through town held a dance contest. Josephine jumped onstage and performed a series of impromptu dances. The audience cheered for her, and she won a dollar.
Shortly after, she declared, “there is no Santa Claus. I’m Santa Claus.” Here is a picture of Josephine Baker as a child wearing a Santa hat. That’s so you’ll remember to tell your children to address their Christmas lists to her in the future. Please remind them to ask her for the gift of dance!