It could be one more castle in the golden triangle of tourism in Périgord Noir. But the Château des Milandes, a stone’s throw from those of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and Beynac, is not a white stone gem quite like the others.
When her family bought it twenty years ago, Angélique de Labarre immediately understood that the slender silhouette and the castle tower that she saw from the window of her little girl’s room had another story to share than that of the medieval battles specific to its neighbors or the Caumont family who built it.
Because here, in this Renaissance castle overlooking the Dordogne, Joséphine Baker certainly lived the best hours of her life as a woman, mother, tribal leader.
“She had a mad love for this place”
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It was the chance of her encounters that brought Joséphine Baker to Périgord before the start of the Second World War. “She rented the castle in 1938 and 1939 and bought it in 1947,” says Angélique de Labarre, who manages this site frequented by 100,000 people each year. She had a mad love for this place. She made it her refuge, she who had a very compartmentalized life and for whom her children came before everything, considering the family as the central nucleus. Here she was also trying to protect herself. “
By buying the castle, Joséphine Baker also acquires the agricultural estate which is deputy. More than a hundred people will be at its service, generating significant savings in this still very rural sector where the Lascaux cave, a few kilometers away, welcomes its first tourists.
A woman of progress at the service of the collective good
A modern woman, she wants to find the comfort of Paris in Les Milandes and brings in running water and electricity which also benefit the whole village. She converted the castle into a comfortable residence. The star that was Joséphine at the time even pushed luxury to the point of having gold-plated taps installed in her bathrooms.
Castelanaud sees a gas station run by his brother, a bakery run by his sister, a bar, a luxury hotel.
An amusement park in the gardens of the castle
“We came from everywhere to see Josephine Baker, assures Angélique de Labarre. So much so that finally, she created an amusement park with a J-shaped swimming pool, mini golf, and above all a theater to perform with Joe Bouillon, her husband, whom she married in 1947, a musician and renowned conductor. 300 to 350,000 visitors came to the village each year. She had an idea a second ”.
Joséphine Baker is omnipresent at the castle where many paintings and photos representing the artist are presented.
Thanks to this windfall and its success, his dream seems on the way to come true: to create a “Village of the world, capital of the Universal Brotherhood”. At the castle, she leads the life of a very loving mother for the twelve children she adopted throughout the world. They are of different origin and confession and constitute the “Rainbow Tribe”.
She, the little Métis American born in 1906 in Saint-Louis, Missouri, raised by her mother in poverty, placed in a wealthy family at the age of 8 in order to earn a little money, and who had seen for the first time a smile on a white face when arriving in Paris in 1925, always wanted to give back to France what she gave him.
“She had a huge heart,” insists Angélique de Labarre. She believed that in everyone there was something positive. “
Debt and eviction like betrayal
Despite the success of Paris my loves in 1959, Joséphine Baker was no longer able to take on the running costs of the château. In 1964, she was riddled with debt and launched an appeal to save the property. The auction of her castle for a tenth of its value and her expulsion from it in 1968 left Josephine Baker with a wound that would never heal. In Les Milandes, the artist had imagined his world a better place. The visitor discovers the life and commitment of an exceptional woman.
In the fight all his life against racism and for freedom
We know less but Joséphine Baker, who became French through her first marriage to Jean Lion in 1937, was a great resistance fighter during the German occupation.
Beyond bringing her ex-husband, a Jew, to America with his family, Josephine Baker actively participated in the resistance. At the Château des Milandes, this period of history that Joséphine Baker went through and which earned her several distinctions including the medal of the French Resistance with rosette, and later the insignia of knight of the Legion of Honor and the Cross war 1939-1945 with palm, is retraced through various objects including a uniform and documents.
The little story will remember that she used her scores in particular to hide messages.
In 1939, she became a counter-espionage agent by gleaning information from Parisian high society. As soon as the battle for France was lost, she joined the secret services of Free France. A refugee in North Africa from 1941 to 1944, she managed to gain important information during a long tour leading her to Damascus in Syria during which she sang for the soldiers.
“A fighter, a strong character”
In particular, she gave the British a microfilm containing a long list of Nazi spies. She had hidden it in her bra on a trip to Lisbon. In 1944, she landed in Marseille with the female forces of the air force.
Joséphine Baker was very active in the resistance.
It was in this military uniform that she spoke alongside Martin Luther King during the “March of Washington” in 1963.
“She was a fighter, a strong character that commands admiration, underlines Angélique de Labarre. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say she was a feminist. It is a symbol, an icon, but its main fight is really the fight against racism and in favor of tolerance ”. This little girl born of a failed union between a black American and a Hispanic and who at 14 danced in the street to eat, has never endured the misery and the lack of love towards children ”.
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Panthéon – The myth Joséphine Baker lives at the Château des Milandes in the Dordogne