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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Josephine Baker Aided the French and Received Medal of Honor

Continuing with the theme of Women's History Month, what better person to discuss than Josephine Baker? She was an international icon who rose from poverty in St. Louis, Missouri to the lavish lifestyle of Paris, France. Baker had a slew of nicknames: "Creole Goddess,"  "Black Venus" and "Black Pearl." She was renown for her beauty and her innovative and flamboyant dances. According to, Baker had a pet cheetah and adopted 12 children from various ethnicities called the "Rainbow Tribe." But do we know the story behind Baker providing intelligence to the Allies during World War II? Josephine Baker received a Medal of Honor for aiding the French Resistance during WWII. 

Josephine's rags to riches story was very similar to many Negro entertainers in the early 1900s. She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906. Baker worked at an early age as a domestic and waitress to help her impoverished family. She married at age thirteen but did not remain in the union for long. (Baker later wed several more times) Young Baker then started dancing professionally. Considered too dark and skinny in America, the New York Times once referred to her as "The Negro Wench." (Source: The Official Josephine Baker Site)

Josephine Baker during WWII

Undeterred, Josephine Baker left the United States for Paris where she became a huge sensation in the 1920s. Baker was praised for her looks; describes women emulating Baker's cropped do, tanned skin, and fashion. Josephine Baker was the toast of the town and her films solidified her status. She also took voice lessons and evolved into a captivating singer. (huffingtonpost)

 She became the highest grossing entertainer in Europe according to Baker infatuated legions of fans with her famous  "Banana Dance," "Shadow Dance" and the "Original Charleston."  A long line of modern day performers have cited Baker as a major influence. Baker incorporated comedy, visual appeal and high energy in her scene stealing performances.

Josephine Baker

Furthermore, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, and F. Scott Fitzgerald greatly admired the "Black Venus."** She embodied the Jazz Age and the accompanying Art Deco movement. Baker attempted to make a return to America in the late 30s with the show Ziegfeld Follies but faced audience rejection. She renounced her American citizenship and became a French citizen in 1937. By this time Baker was among the top photographed female stars. France embraced her. (huffingtonpost)

From the Official Josephine Baker site:

Admirers bestowed a plethora of gifts, including diamonds and cars, and she received approximately 1,500 marriage proposals.

Which is why Josephine Baker was the perfect candidate to smuggle information for the French Resistance during World War II. 

The Vichy Government and The French Resistance


The surrender of France in June 1940, was a major blow to many French people in terms of their pride. Many believed that the government had let the people down. The creation of a Nazi-approved Vichy government, primarily in the centre and south of the country, was, in the minds of many, further proof that politicians had let down France. The resistance movement developed to provide the Allies with intelligence, attack the Germans when possible and to assist the escape of Allied airmen.


In the immediate aftermath of the June 1940 surrender, France went into a period of shock. The public had been assured that the French army, along with the Maginot Line, was more than strong enough to resist a German attack. The speed and severity of Blitzkrieg had shocked the French people. The non-occupied region of France, known as Vichy France, was set up by the Germans and governed by Marshall P├ętain. 

Meanwhile, French President Charles de Gaulle on June 18th, 1940 told the French people from London to keep fighting the Germans. The Vichy government, collaborated with the Germans and internal conflict began.

  Baker had a castle in Southern France. She provided housing for Resistance members. 


Josephine Baker, Free France Spy

Prior to the surrender of France to the Germans in 1940, Baker was made an "honorary correspondent" by a French official. Baker gathered information on German troops from various embassy and ministry personnel at parties. Baker passed the intel on to the French government. Her femme fatale persona allowed her access to confidential military information.(

Baker housed French Resistance friends at her Southern France castle and procured travel visas. She traveled throughout neutral Europe and South America collecting information about German troop movement, airfields and harbors. As a spy, once again she obtained some of the information by her "beguiling smile" and sensuous charm. The intelligence would then be written on invisible ink on Josephine's sheet music. On some occasions the info would be pinned on her underwear. An entertainer of Baker's cache would not be subject to a strip search. (

Baker's other WWII activities included a stint as a sub-lieutenant for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She also provided performances for French troops free of charge, boosting their morale. For her brave and commendable efforts Baker was the first American-born woman to be awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la R├ęsistance and to be made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. (

Image via:
Josephine Baker with her pet cheetah

American Civil Rights Proponent 

Josephine Baker figured prominently in the American Civil Rights Movement. She was invited to speak during the 1963 March On Washington* and was one of the few women that spoke before thousands of protesters. After the assignation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. his wife Coretta selected Baker to be the face of the movement but she declined. 

Baker refused to perform in front of segregated audiences and challenged the social mores of the day, winning accolades from the NAACP. Her actions resulted in death threats from the Klu Klux Klan but she remained steadfast with her convictions.

One of the most famous entertainers of the twentieth century pushed the envelope with her stage persona and private life. Her songs are timeless standards covered by many. The "Black Pearl" reaped the benefits of her amazing popularity and enjoyed a posh lifestyle. 

Josephine Baker's status allowed her to be the perfect spy for the French Resistance in WWII. Additionally, she was a pivotal player during the American Civil Rights Movement. Baker lived life on her terms and did not let rejection in the United States limit her. Josephine Baker died in 1975 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  Baker was buried with military honors and over 20,000 people attended her funeral. (

What entertainer today does Baker remind you of? Can you think of anyone else that was involved in military and social causes?

Don't forget to share this post!

Josephine Baker was the only woman who spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.
 She is pictured with Lena Horne, another activist entertainer.
image via:


Encyclopedia Brittanica
* on Washington Speech
Official Site of Josephine Baker

*Vichy-  France was divided into two zones. Petain set up his government in the unoccupied zone at the spa town of Vichy. The large number of hotels housed all the ministries.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Valaida Snow: African American Woman in a Nazi Concentration Camp?

With March being Women's History Month, I wanted to feature Women for this month's posts.   The following person had a lot of queries after I shared a photo and a brief description elsewhere. I chose this World War II themed individual because of her unique story and to answer some questions that were raised...

What if you left your native born country because you wanted to pursue and sustain your career as an incredibly talented artist? You hailed from a large family that was musically gifted and you were also gorgeous. You were a fashionista and all your sensational marriages made the tabloids. There were other progeny that performed but you were the one that reached a different level of stardom, first in America and then internationally. The music that you transcribed and sang launched you into the stratosphere.

I am referring to the incomparable Valaida Snow, a multi-hyphenated phenom. She was a vaudeville performer, jazz vocalist and a dancer. Snow was also was a preeminent trumpet player. Her trumpet playing was so outstanding, that she was dubbed "Little Louie," a complimentary nickname after Louis Armstrong. Armstrong stated that Snow was "The second best trumpet player after himself." (

But another distinction that musician Valaida Snow has is this shocking claim: 

That she was a African American Woman in a Nazi Concentration Camp during World War II.
Valaida Snow, Queen of Trumpet

The Artistry of Valaida Snow reports that Valaida Snow grow up in a musical family in Chattanooga, TN. Dates of her birth are listed between 1903-1907. Her mother taught Valaida to play the following instruments: cello, bass, violin, banjo, accordion, saxophone and trumpet. Pianist Mary Williams compared her trumpet's High C notes as similar to those of Louis Armstrong. The "Queen of the Trumpet" could also sing and dance. Her father was white, and had music industry connections. Her father's connections enabled her at an early age to be part of the vaudeville act called Snow's Gold Dust Twins.

Valaida's mixed race appearance was appealing for female Broadway and nightclub acts. She was cast in Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's Chocolate Dandies in 1924. Chocolate Dandies toured for six months and made it to Broadway. Lena Horne and Josephine Baker were among the chorus girls for this exciting production. Snow performed in concerts in the states, Europe and Asia. (

Valaida's heyday was in the 1930s, when she was a celebrity in London and Paris. Her signature hit song "High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm" was recorded during this time. Snow was in Rhapsody in Black with Ethel Waters in New York. She even appeared in films and her popularity showed no signs of diminishing. A successful run at the Apollo Theater in New York and a high profile marriage to Ananias Berry, one of the dancing Berry Brothers, did not hurt either. (

Indeed, Valaida Snow had an impressive discography of music and appearances. She made significant contributions in the male dominated music industry as a Black female. Snow traveled to all the major cosmopolitan cities by the time she was twenty five and conducted orchestras at age thirty, according to Mark Miller*. The Queen of the Trumpet also led all female jazz bands, proving that she could pack dance halls and auditoriums. Yes, she was more than just a pretty colored chorus girl doing the latest dance craze in a Harlem nightclub.
Valaida Snow conducting in Blackbirds

Was African American Jazz Artist Valaida Snow in A Nazi Concentration Camp During World War II?

Snow returned to Europe for additional tour dates and to hold court as a scenester. Jazz was the top selling genre of the era and she was enthralling. However, World War II began in Europe in 1939 and Hitler's Third Reich was determined to expand its aggression in country after country. Friend Josephine Baker advised Snow to return to the States. The singer happened to be in Denmark, which became occupied by Nazi Germany.

The Nazis viewed Non-Aryans as an inferior people. Nazis hatred were primarily targeted towards Jews. Concentration camps were set up to exterminate Jews and other people considered undesirable as Hitler's "Final Solution." Nazis performed unethical medical experiments on the small number of Blacks in Germany and forced sterilization. Propaganda against Blacks warned Aryans not to socialize with them. ( 

Valaida did return to the states. She traveled to New York and underwent a press campaign that included " a story of internment in a Nazi concentration camp, of starvation, torture, and frequent whippings."  Amsterdam News on April 10, 1943, reports Snow as  "the only colored woman entertainer on record to have been interned in a Nazi concentration camp." Author Jayna Brown argued the "Amsterdam News article was designed by Snow's manager to garner attention for her comeback show. Nothing more." (Babylon Girls: Black Girl Performers and the Shaping of Modern)

Jazzcom. references Mark Miller's research on Snow. He interviewed people that knew the singer and analyzed her itinerary around the time of her internment. He concluded that:
Snow was addicted to the opiate painkiller oxycodone, and was taken into custody by Danish authorities in March 1942, possibly for her own protection. She shuttled between a prison and a hospital in Copenhagen until safe passage to New York was arranged for her via neutral Sweden two months later.

Valaida Snow was not interned in a Nazi concentration camp. This is an important distinction. She was taken into Danish custody, because of alleged drug possession and theft. There were no concentration or death camps in Denmark. (concentration camps were to the east)  The Nazi concentration camp story was a ploy for publicity. With Hitler's views on Blacks widely known, it only enhanced the horror of Snow's confinement. Even today, this fabrication is circulated on the Internet as truth.
Conductor Valaida Snow

Her unmatched musicianship in the early part of the twentieth century in the field of vaudeville, jazz and film cannot be denied. The "Queen of Trumpet" excelled in a male dominated arena. She was a jazz performer who was in Denmark at the time of Nazi occupation during WWII. Valaida Snow's shocking claim of being in a Nazi concentration camp and her life as an entertainer warrants a closer look. Snow died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1956.

What are your thoughts about Valaida Snow? Are you curious to learn more about her?

Don't forget to share this post and subscribe.


The Afro American
Babylon Girls: Black Girl Performers and the Shaping of the Modern
*High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life of Valaida Snow- Considered the most comprehensive research on Snow's life and debunks the concentration camp myth.
NPR Audio Review of Mark Miller Biography on Valaida Snow
Take the A Train
Roots, Rhyme and Rhythm

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Father's Story of The Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion

The new guest to the Primus house was given a tour around the residence. I escorted her through the split level house, squeezing past chair glides that graced two flights of stairs. The Veterans Administration paid for the newer, sleek model with the remote. Introductions were made, and small talk ensued. Al Sharpton's robust voice could be heard from the living room television as it usually does at 6pm. One gregarious person who came to visit my father had left. Dad became engrossed in his show.

I was working on Montford Point Marine and Honor Blog and showed the remaining guest the writing. I explained that it was about my father and pointed out to her my mother's post. At age ninety my father is not really interested in the Internet. He prefers newspapers. I then noticed that he suddenly became agitated.

His voice changed and he spoke directly to me about our guest, in right front of her. Dad's penetrating brown eyes looked sharply into my questioning gaze.
 "She didn't notice anything when she came in."
The guest and I shifted nervously. It seemed like forever and we both waited. It was like in the movies when the alpha male makes a statement and no one knows how to react.
"She didn't notice my awards."
Everyone burst into laughter, relieved. " I'm sorry, let me show you my Dad's awards and explain his history, I was wondering why he was getting all testy!" I smiled.
Corporal Lynn L. Williams (far right) walks with other Marines during liberty in the 1940s. 

Montford Point Marine and Honor Blog is slowly growing. A month into my blog, people have expressed interest in doing a documentary on my father's life. They include former students of mine, random strangers, and cohorts. What readers fail to realize is that this is really my father's story and I write because he wanted others to know about his life, the story about the 51st Defense Battalion, and the Montford Point Marines. Of course by reading this you get a chance to discover how living in the United States as a Black man of my father's generation was difficult. You also get some trailblazers, military topics and general history thrown in for good measure.

Some of my consistently ranked top ranked posts are the ones such as the Great Depression and my mother. His Non-Welcoming Homecoming, is popular. Consequently, stories in Montford Point Marines and Honor Blogspot are universal and timeless. Who can't relate to being ostracized at one time or discriminated? I write from the viewpoint of a teacher, remembering when students would be interested when I shared stories about my father's life. All those years of  teaching children how to write a five paragraph essay in forty five minutes paid off, apparently. I spend countless hours on posts, finding appealing photos, and researching multiple sources. I am learning SEO, social media, and how to add links. You can see the difference in the posts over time. Which leads us to....

....Ill-intentioned people who want to profit from my writing and achieve all the glory without doing the heavy lifting. Who are they? They know who they are. I see where they come in through analytics, where they are researching my page views and website's net worth. So I retained the services of an attorney in Washington, D.C. and conferred with others in Connecticut and Florida. Writers today cultivate followers over time. It is where trust and a relationship forms. I could easily write a book today and let it languish.  For someone else to simply write a book after I done all the research and work is--well, inherently wrong. Especially since said person (s) reads this blog on a regular and pretends like it does not exist.  My Dad is very proud of me and likes talking to me about his life. He likes to remember the old days as it keeps his mind active. Alas, there appears to be people out there who are trying to get the glory and a payday, people who really don't care about my father.

Some Montford Point Marines received their Medal of Honor at home.
They were unable to make the ceremony because of health reasons.

When I talked to him about a book and a documentary, he says make sure no one calls him and I want my cut!  So just as some people are waiting for my posts in order to get a payday, I wait for my Google alerts that scan the Internet for any resemblance of my Dad's story. The daughter of a Montford Point Marine, in case you haven't noticed, pays close attention.

I thank the loyal readers of this blog for their support. My father is very pleased when I read to him the list of countries throughout the world who are learning about him. Seventy years is a long time to tell his story of the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion, nicknamed the "Lost Battalion," by the Black Press. With Google alerts, I read about Montford Point Marine Veterans receiving their medals at their residence or at a nursing home. They were too ill to make the ceremony in Washington. D.C. Others had no idea the United States Marine Corp were trying to locate them. Usually a Marine Officer arrives at the Veteran's house to award the coveted Medal of Honor to a proud "Leatherneck."

So what do you think? Should a "Johnny Come Lately" slap a book or movie together and exploit my father's story, using my words and efforts? Why aren't these individuals reaching out to me if they are so interested in my father's life as a Montford Point Marine? Isn't it great that my father has an uncanny memory about his past?

Please feel free to comment and share.

Reading about the history of the Montford Point Marines


Leatherneck-Slang word for US Marine

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dedications: The Marine Obstacle Course and the Montford Point Challenge

This is a shorter post, readers. The month of February is Black History Month in the United States. Unsurprisingly, it generated a lot of interest in the Montford Point Marines, which is excellent for the "Montford Point Marine Movement."

Women's History Month is during the month of March, so I will be featuring female subjects that are related to military. But in the meantime...

Are you aware of a Marine Obstacle Course that is dedicated to a Montford Point Marine? He is:

Sylvester Hood Sr., who enlisted on December 10, 1943. A pioneer, he was among the first of the roughly 20,000 Montford Point Marines to graduate prior to training integration and the depot's closure in 1949. During World War II, he served in the 6th Marine Ammunition Company as a munitions worker, deploying to Sasebo, Japan and Hawaii. Col. Hood was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on March 9, 1949, and returned to his family in Meridian., MS. Source: reported: 
It was his service and dedication to his family and the country he loved that he was honored during a ceremony Nov. 8, 2013, on board Naval Air Station Meridian, MS. The Marine obstacle course was dedicated to Hood. 
           A groundbreaking ceremony for the monument that will honor him and all Montford Point                Marines was also held.
"All of us in the military - even our jet pilots - are standing on the shoulders of giants," said Maj. Aaron J. Brooks, commanding officer of Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron One. 

 Over in in Quantico, VA, United States Marine Corps Officers in the video below took part in the "Montford Point Challenge. "

U.S. Marine officer candidates participate in a physical challenge called "The Montford Point Challenge" aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Oct. 12, 2012. The Montford Point Challenge was introduced to OCS to teach the history, contribution and dedication of the Montford Point Marines. -Description from Youtube.

A trio of recruits in training to take their places as fighting Leathernecks in the U.S. Marine Corps, run the rugged obstacle course at Camp Lejeune, NC (Montford Point Camp). The Marine recruits have shown such excellent results in their aptitudes and leadership capacities that an expanded Navy recruiting program is now underway.", 04/1943. Credit: National Archives.
Original Montford Point Marines in 1943.

The above photo had the original caption from the National Archives:

A trio of recruits in training to take their places as fighting Leathernecks in the U.S. Marine Corps, run the rugged obstacle course at Camp Lejeune, NC (Montford Point Camp). The Marine recruits have shown such excellent results in their aptitudes and leadership capacities that an expanded Navy recruiting program is now underway.", 04/1943. Credit: National Archives.

What a wonderful tribute to the Montford Point Marines; an obstacle course dedicated to Sylvester Hood, Sr, along with the Montford Point Challenge.  These physical initiatives are perfect metaphors in what the men had to endure. Are you surprised about these obstacles courses? Have you ever participated in an obstacle course?

 Don't forget to share this information! Be a part of the "Montford Point Marine Movement!"


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