Background Josephine Baker (1906-1975) was the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture and to become a famous world-class entertainer. After dropping out of high school at the age of 12, Baker became a very successful street performer, and soon accepted positions in American, and later French, vaudevilles. Josephine Baker was a major figure in the American Civil Rights Movement, during which she adopted 12 multi-ethnic children and refused to perform for segregated audiences. At the March on Washington, led by many high profile civil rights activists, Baker had the honor of being asked to speak before the march began.
Speech at the March on Washington
Speech by Josephine Baker
1. [Read lozenge] As you read lines 1-XX [“Friends and family…to…I never feared], begin to collect and cite text evidence. * Underline the statement that shows why Josephine Baker is qualified to give a speech. * In the margin, summarize the evidence Josephine Baker provides that shows she’s similar to other African-Americans. * Circle the difference between Josephine Baker and other African-Americans. Josephine Baker has been the victim of racism, like other African-Americans. Josephine Baker has been the victim of racism, like other African-Americans. “Friends and family . . . you know I have lived a long time and I have come a long way. And you must know now that what I did, I did originally for myself. Then later, as these things began happening to me, I wondered if they were happening to you, and then I knew they must be.
And I knew that you had no way to defend yourselves, as I had. “And as I continued to do the things I did, and to say the things I said, they began to beat me. Not beat me, mind you, with a club—but you know, I have seen that done too—but they beat me with their pens, with their writings. And friends, that is much worse. “When I was a child and they burned me out of my home, I frightened and I ran away. Eventually I ran far away. It was to a place called France. Many of you have been there, and many have not. But l must tell you, ladies and gentlemen, in that country I never feared
“But I must tell you, when I was young in Paris, strange things happened to me. And these things had never happened to me before. When I left St. Louis a long time ago, the conductor directed me to the last car. And you all know what that means. In France, African-Americans are not segregated from whites. In France, African-Americans are not segregated from whites. “But when I ran away, yes, when I ran away to another country, I didn’t have to do that. I could go into any restaurant I wanted to, and I could drink water anyplace I wanted to, and I didn’t have to go to a colored toilet either, and I have to tell you it was nice, and I got used to it, and I liked it, and I wasn’t afraid anymore that someone would shout at me and say, ‘Go to the end of the line.’ “So over there, far away, I was happy, and because I was happy I had some success, and you know that too. “Then, after a long time, I came to America to be in a great show for Mr. Ziegfeld, and you know Josephine was happy.
You know that. Because I wanted to tell everyone in my country about myself. I wanted to let everyone know that I made good, and you know too that that is only natural. “But on that great big beautiful ship, I had a bad experience. A very important star was to sit with me for dinner, and at the last moment I discovered she didn’t want to eat with a colored woman. I can tell you it was some blow. “And I won’t bother to mention her name, because it is not important, and anyway, now she is dead. 2. [Reread lozenge] Reread lines XX-XX. [And as I…to…I never feared] Does Baker use valid reasoning when she states that it “is much worse” to be beaten with a pen than with a club? What evidence does she provide to support this idea? Support your answer with explicit textual evidence. [WOLS]
Baker’s reasoning is valid, because she has been exposed to both kinds of violence. Baker states that although she is not referencing being beaten with a club, she has “seen that done too”. This shows that she isn’t ignorant to the pain that can be attributed to racially-motivated violence, and she can then be trusted to make the claim that it “is much worse” to be beaten with a pen. 3. [Read lozenge] As you read lines XX-XX [“But I must…to…she is dead.], continue to cite textual evidence. * Underline examples of segregation in America.
* In the margin, summarize the benefits of being an African-American in France. “And when I got to New York way back then, I had other blows—when they would not let me check into the good hotels because I was colored, or eat in certain restaurants. And then I went to Atlanta, and it was a horror to me. And I said to myself, I am Josephine, and if they do this to me, what do they do to the other people in America? Josephine Baker “opens her mouth” because she is denied what she feels she is entitled to. Josephine Baker “opens her mouth” because she is denied what she feels she is entitled to. “You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.
And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ‘cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world. “So I did open my mouth, and you know I did scream, and when I demanded what I was supposed to have and what I was entitled to, they still would not give it to me. “So then they thought they could smear me, and the best way to do that was to call me a communist. And you know, too, what that meant. Those were dreaded words in those days, and I want to tell you also that I was hounded by the government agencies in America, and there was never one ounce of proof that I was a communist.
But they were mad. They were mad because I told the truth. And the truth was that all I wanted was a cup of coffee. But I wanted that cup of coffee where I wanted to drink it, and I had the money to pay for it, so why shouldn’t I have it where I wanted it? 4. [Reread lozenge] Reread lines XX-XX. [“But when I…to…know that too] What counterargument does Josephine Baker provide to anyone who would accuse her of turning her back on America by moving to France? Support your answer with explicit textual evidence. [WOLS]
Josephine Baker defends her decision by admitting that she “ran away to another country”, but only because she was treated better in France than in America. She states, “I was happy, and because I was happy I had some success, and you know that too.” 5. [Read lozenge] As you read lines XX-XX [“And when I…to…wanted it.], continue to cite textual evidence. * Underline evidence that shows Josephine Baker is concerned for other African-Americans. * In the margin, summarize why Josephine Baker “yells”.
She is referring to equality and the end of racism and segregation. She is referring to equality and the end of racism and segregation. “Friends and brothers and sisters, that is how it went. And when I screamed loud enough, they started to open that door just a little bit, and we all started to be able to squeeze through it. “Now, I am not going to stand in front of all of you today and take credit for what is happening now. I cannot do that. But I want to take credit for telling you how to do the same thing, and when you scream, friends, I know you will be heard. And you will be heard now. “But you young people must do one thing, and I know you have heard this story a thousand times from your mothers and fathers, like I did from my mama. I didn’t take her advice. But I accomplished the same in another fashion. You must get an education. You must go to school, and you must learn to protect yourself. And you must learn to protect yourself with the pen, and not the gun. Then you can answer them, and I can tell you—and I don’t want to sound corny—but friends, the pen really is mightier than the sword.”
6. [Reread lozenge] Reread lines XX-XX. [“You know, friends…to…I wanted it”] How does Baker’s claim of the rights afforded to her as a celebrity in other countries strengthen her argument? Support your answer with explicit textual evidence. [WOLS]
Baker argues that if she has been able to walk “into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents” in other countries, she is certainly entitled to a “cup of coffee where I wanted to drink it”, especially since she “had the money to pay for it.” African-Americans only wanted what they felt they were entitled to, such as checking into “the good hotels” or eating “in certain restaurants”. If Josephine Baker could go into a king’s palace, certainly blacks could choose where they bought coffee. 7. [Read lozenge] As you read lines XX-XX [“Friends and brothers…to…a low voice.], continue to cite textual evidence. * Underline what Josephine Baker claims has opened, and will continue to open “the door”. * In the margin, write what Josephine Baker is referring to when she says she has opened “that door just a little bit, and we all started to be able to squeeze through it” * Circle the benefits of protecting one’s self with a pen.
Josephine hesitated a long time, just looking. There was not a sound in the crowd. Someone came up and handed her a piece of paper. She read it, placed it on the podium, and continued in a low voice. “I am not a young woman now, friends. My life is behind me. There is not too much fire burning inside me. And before it goes out, I want you to use what is left to light that fire in you. So that you can carry on, and so that you can do those things that I have done. Then, when my fire have burned out, and I go where we all go someday, I can be happy. “You know, I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I grew older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you.
I want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have to run away to get it. And mothers and fathers, if it is too late for you, think of your children. Make it safe here so they do not have to run away, for I want for you and your children what I had. 8. [Reread lozenge] Reread lines XX-XX. [“Friends and brothers…to…in another fashion.] What does Josephine Baker state to contest the idea that she is giving herself too much credit for her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement? How does this reasoning appeal to the shared beliefs of her audience? Support your answer with explicit textual evidence. [WOLS]
Baker claims that she only wants “credit for telling you how to do the same thing”, and in this case, “the same thing” refers to “yelling” when injustices occur. Baker states that when she “screamed loud enough, they started to open that door just a little bit, and we all started to be able to squeeze through it.” However, by challenging her audience to follow her lead and scream as well, their strength in numbers will continue what she has started, for “when you scream, friends, I know you will be heard.” 9. [Read lozenge] As you read lines XX-XX [Josephine hesitated a…to…I am gone.”], continue to cite textual evidence. * Underline what Josephine Baker claims to have done for African-Americans. * In the margin, write the evidence that supports her claims. * Circle what Josephine Baker asks the audience to do for future generations.
Josephine Baker’s claim is supported when she gets invited to the White House. Josephine Baker’s claim is supported when she gets invited to the White House. “Ladies and gentlemen, my friends and family, I have just been handed a little note, as you probably saw. It is an invitation to visit the President of the United States in his home, the White House. “I am greatly honored. But I must tell you that a colored woman—or, as you say it here in America, a black woman—is not going there. It is a woman. It is Josephine Baker.
“It is a great honor for me. Someday I want you children out there to have that great honor too. And we know that that time is not someday. We know that that time is now. “I thank you, and may God bless you. And may He continue to bless you long after I am gone.” 10. [Reread and discuss lozenge] Reread lines XX-XX [“I am not…to…I am gone.”] In a small group, discuss how Josephine Baker’s invitation to the White House provides evidence to support her claim that “We know that time is now.” Cite evidence from the text SHORT ANSWER
What universal themes does Josephine Baker explore in her speech? What makes these themes universal? Review your reading notes, and be sure to cite evidence in your response. [WOLS] In her speech, Josephine Baker explores the themes of the desire for equality, the pursuit of freedom, and the strength of numbers. Josephine Baker speaks of when she “ran away to another country” in order to be treated equally and to find happiness and success. “So over there, far away, I was happy, and because I was happy I had some success, and you know that too.”
Due to the efforts of herself and other notable African-Americans, Baker challenges her audience to rise up and yell when they are being treated unfairly, for “when you scream, friends, I know you will be heard. And you will be heard now.” These themes are universal because they form the basic inalienable rights that all people should be born into: the right to freedom and the right to be treated fairly, without regard to the color of their skin. Additionally, stories of groups of people fighting for what they believe they are entitled to can be found throughout literature from all time periods.
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