WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.
Today, Homeland’s Hope IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.
Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of Homeland’s Hope, Part 2 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.
While the actual person Jesse Owens is mentioned more than once, the fictional character Virginia Benoit is inspired by the very real heroine Josephine Baker.
James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens was born on September 12, 1913 in Oakville, Alabama and passed away in Tuscan, Arizona on March 31, 1980 at the age of 66. According to his obituary which ran in the New York Times, during his lifetime, Jesse was recognized as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history.” His achievement of setting three world records and tying a fourth in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport,” and has never been equaled since.
It is well known that while competing at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, while then Chancellor Adolf Hitler looked on in disgust, Jesse Owens won international fame along with four Olympic Gold medals for the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and the 4 x100 meter relay. Jesse Owens was the most successful individual athlete at the games that year. His victory flew in the face of the Nazi’s stated supreme “master race” theories.
Josephine Baker’s heroic actions during the second World War are less well known even to this day. Born into poverty in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906 as Freda Josephine McDonald, she would later be known to the world as Josephine Baker. Despite her dire circumstances as a child, she loved dancing and learned how by watching and mimicking the dancers at the famous Booker T. Washington Theater. At the age of 10, she won a dance competition and decided on the spot that she wanted to be a dancer when she grew up.
In 1917 she witnessed the St. Louis race riots and the “black exodus” that followed. A sea of people fleeing the murderous riot behind them as they crossed the St. Louis Bridge toward her was forever etched in her mind. What she saw in those days spurred her heart to spend much of her adult life confronting and fighting racism.
In 1925, after spending much of her career dancing in New York City, Josephine went to Paris to perform in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Paris loved Josephine Baker, and she loved Paris. Soon, she was among the highest paid entertainers in France of any race, a stage and movie sensation. She came to be known in various circles as the “Black Pearl,” the “Bronze Venus” and even the “Creole Goddess.”
In 1928, Josephine went on a European tour and witnessed how racist much of Europe was becoming. Nazi run newspapers condemned her for performing on the same stage as “Aryan” performers, and some places even threw ammonia bombs at her. After that, Josephine rather correctly equated racism with Nazism.
In 1934, Josephine took the starring role in a French film, Zuzu, a great success in Paris. The name Zuzu comes from Zuzana, a Czech/Slovak form of Susana, but for whatever reason it stuck and Josephine’s close friends often called her Zuzu in private and in letters after the film’s release.
In 1936, the same year Jesse Owens won four Olympic gold medals in Berlin, Josephine returned to America to perform, but was treated with open racism and general hostility. She returned to France, heartbroken by the way her home country had treated her. When she returned to Paris, she married Jean Lion and became a French citizen.
On November 9, 1938, Nazis in Germany destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses in what is today called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). After that night, Josephine joined the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism.
An organization in France called Deuzieme Bureau was looking for undercover agents who could afford to work without pay and who could travel without suspicion. They approached Josephine and asked her to be an agent for them. Without hesitation, Josephine embraced the opportunity. After several weeks of training in weapons, self-defense, and memory, she was given her first mission: attending parties at the Italian embassy and reporting the information she overheard.
Her chateau, which was a large rural home in southern France she had named Les Milandes, became a stopping-point for Resistance workers, a safe house for refugees, and occasionally was used to store weapons. Eventually, the Germans grew suspicious and started watching her home, and she left. She traveled through Spain, Portugal, and North Africa, performing, attending parties, and listening. Just like the fictional Virginia Benoit, the real Josephine Baker used invisible ink and wrote what she saw and heard in the margins of her sheet music.
In June 1941, she became very ill and was hospitalized in Casablanca until December 1942. When she was finally released and strong enough to perform, she performed for the Allied troops, insisting that the audience, which was traditionally seated with white soldiers up front and black soldiers in the back, be desegregated before she performed.
After the war, Josephine received the Legion of Honour with the rosette of the Resistance, and became the first American born woman to receive the Croix de Guerre. These are two of France’s highest military honors.
When the war ended, Josephine returned to her chateau, Les Milandes. In 1947, she married again, this time to French orchestra leader Jo Bouillon. She adopted 12 children, all of different nationalities, which she referred to as her “rainbow tribe”. Her intent was to impress upon the outside world that people of different colors and ethnicities could live together as a family.
The “incident” with the radio personality which fictional characters Radden and Benoit stage is based on an actual event which occurred in New York’s Stork Club on the night of October 16, 1951. To set the record straight more than half a century later, by all accounts the radio personality, Walter Winchell, was utterly innocent of any wrong-doing. He was simply also present when the incident occurred. The blame for the mistreatment Josephine Baker suffered should have fallen squarely and fairly upon the shoulders of Stork Club owner, Sherman Billingsley. The problem was that no one had ever heard of Billingsley while absolutely every “Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea” knew the name of Walter Winchell in 1951.
Josephine continued to perform her own show at the Roxy to sold-out crowds throughout the remainder of the season, though the Stork Club incident continued to haunt her career in the United States from that day forward. Despite bad press, Baker took several trips back and forth to America in the 1950s and 1960s to help with the growing Civil Rights Movement.
On August 28, 1963, two separate parades were held for male and female civil rights leaders during the famous March on Washington. The men marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. The women—including Josephine Baker, Daisy Bates, and Rosa Parks—marched down Independence Avenue. When the groups met at the Mall, on the platform, Josephine stood right beside Martin Luther King, Jr., and was the only female speaker at the march, preceding the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Reverend King.
Whenever she performed in America, she insisted on a nonsegregation clause in her contracts. Most places honored them, causing a desegregation in clubs that never would have happened otherwise. The NAACP eventually named May 20th “Josephine Baker Day” in honor of her lifelong efforts to end racism.
In 1973, Josephine performed at Carnegie Hall and was received with a standing ovation. Two years later, she performed at the Bobino Theater in Paris to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her Paris debut. Celebrities in attendance included Sophia Loren and Princess Grace of Monaco. Just days later, on April 12, 1975, Josephine Baker died in her sleep. She was 69 years old.
At her wake, an estimated 20,000 people lined the streets for her funeral procession. For her service during the war, Josephine Baker became the first American in history to receive full military honors in a French funeral.
Read about Virginia Benoit, code-named HOPE, who was inspired by the amazing Josephine Baker, in Homeland’s Hope, FREE November 2-6 on Amazon.