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When this fancy restaurant refused to serve Josephine Baker, her badass takedown didn’t disappoint

When this fancy restaurant refused to serve Josephine Baker, her badass takedown didn’t disappoint
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When this fancy restaurant refused to serve Josephine Baker, her badass takedown didn’t disappoint
She lawyered up — and proved that bigotry doesn’t pay
Bené VieraApr 9
Currently: Senior Writer. Formerly: Deputy Editor. Words: New York Times, GQ, ESPN, ELLE, Cosmo, Glamour, Vulture, etc. Catch me on Twitter: @beneviera.

<img class="progressiveMedia-noscript js-progressiveMedia-inner" src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2000/1*YbwETwi4xgoh5OHJUBNNjA.jpeg">
People protesting outside of the the Stork Club in New York after Josephine Baker’s discriminatory service. (Getty Images)
Josephine Baker arrived with friends in tow at Manhattan’s Stork Club on October 16, 1951, craving shrimp cocktail and steak. It was one of the most prestigious supper clubs in the world, and there seemed no better place for the famous dancer to celebrate her last show at the Roxy. An hour after she placed her order, she noticed that others around her were being served while service to her table had all but stopped.
What Baker didn’t know was that club owner Sherman Billingsleyhad arranged it that way. “Who let her in?” Billingsley had said to a waiter upon seeing her seated in the Cub Room. Baker, who had become the first black entertainer to star in a motion picture and who’d achieved her fame and fortune in Europe, was no stranger to discrimination. She refused to perform in segregated clubs in the States. In addition, she was a major supporter of the civil rights movement and unapologetically vocal about racism. Once she realized what was happening, she called her lawyer, Walter White, who was also executive secretary of the NAACP. From the same phone booth, she also called Deputy Police Commissioner Billy Rowe about being denied service. After the phone calls were placed, a waiter rushed over to the table and finally brought out the steak the star had ordered. But Baker refused to eat it.
“I have no intention of suffering deliberate humiliation without striking back,” she said.
Judging from what happened next, Billingsley probably wished he’d just brought out the steak in a timely fashion. The NAACP began picketing the Stork Club shortly after, calling for its liquor and cabaret licenses to be revoked because of racial bias. The clubs licenses remained intact, but its reputation took a hit. Billingsley learned an important lesson the hard way: racism costs.
 
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Bené Viera
Currently: Senior Writer. Formerly: Deputy Editor. Words: New York Times, GQ, ESPN, ELLE, Cosmo, Glamour, Vulture, etc. Catch me on Twitter: @beneviera.
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