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Les Château Milandes

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Here's a puzzle for our regular readers. Whose home did we visit today?


If Americans are asked to recall Saturday April 12 1975 they may remember that it was the day they were forced to abandon their secret war in Cambodia.and evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. They may also recollect that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest-serving president in U.S. history, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. However, few Americans will probably acknowledge that one of the most famous American dancers and singers of all time died that day. What has the death of a 68 year old American entertainer to do with the Dordogne in Southwest France? The answer lies inside this magnificent mansion...


This is Les Château Milandes, a grand 15th century manor house near the Dordogne town of Sarlat-le-Caneda. It was the residence of the lords of Caumont who preferred to live here instead of their large, uncomfortable medieval castle of Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. Here's another view of Les Milandes...


However, we are not here hoping to spot the ghost of a medieval chevalier. We are seeking to retrace the steps of a young black woman who topped the bill in the the most fashionable of Parisian nightspots in the middle of the 20th century. Following sold out performances at the Folies-Bergère she would have danced her way though this 600 year old doorway to her grand bedroom on the 2nd floor...


If you are not French her name may not mean much to you, but the owner of this building, (and the entire village), was born in 1906 to a single mother on skid-row in St. Louis, Missouri. She had little education and dropped out entirely at the age of 10 to support her family. She married badly at 13 and again at 15 and was seemingly destined for the street – but she could dance. By 16 she was dancing in revues in New York and at the age of 19 she was the talk of Paris in the Roaring Twenties. In no time she was one of the most sought after dancers and singers in the world, but she was shunned in her home country where black women were expected to know their place. Sixteen of New York's top hotels refused to serve her and she was only given a room in the seventeenth because she agreed to use the kitchen entrance and the staff stairs. Here in her magnificent mansion in the lush valley of the Dordogne she never had to worry about climbing the spiral staircase inside the fortified tower...


And she could have wandered these beautiful gardens which must have seemed like the Garden of Eden to her...


During the Second World War she became French and served as a leuitenant in La résistance. She was awarded France's highest award for gallantry – the Legion d'honneur – along with numerous medals and citations: no small feat for a black kid born on the wrong side of the tracks in St. Louis.

In her determination to unite the peoples of the world she and her husband adopted twelve very young children from different countries and brought them up together here. But her generosity and naivity eventually backfired: she was bankrupted and evicted and forced to go back on the stage in her late sixties. The trauma of losing all she had worked so hard to achieve was too much and she soon died. But here in Les Château Milandes in this beautiful corner of France her memory will live forever...


To find out more about our heroine click here and ignore the Japanese advert:

Posted by Hawkson 13:03 Archived in France

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Josephine Baker is her name. Very beautiful chateaux and Grounds. I wonder what happened to all of her adopted children. What fun you must be having.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Thank you for this little history lesson. I had not heard of Josephine before this.

by Janet

Can't believe this bit of history passed me by. Remarkable individual. From black poverty to a palace in France. Great story.

by R and B

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