“I had lain on the beach many times, but never before with a white girl [...] No one stared as we lay on the beach together, our skins contrasting but our hearts beating identically and both with noses on the center of our faces. Odd, it seemed to me, that here, in the land of hate, I should find this all-important phase of democracy. And suddenly I felt bitter.“
William Gardner Smith about the experience of black GIs in Germany, from The Last of the Conquerors (1948)
"Ein Hauch von Freiheit" (Breath of Freedom)
December 16, 10:05pm CET on Arte
"Breath of Freedom: Black Soldiers and the Battle for Civil Rights" (narrated by Cuba Gooding, Jr.)
Premiers February 17, 8pm ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel
"Freed's enduring photos of march part of exhibit"
„Heldin des anderen Amerikas“
für Angela Davis, 1970–1973.
Our research project explores the connection between the U.S. military presence abroad and the advancement of civil rights in the U.S. We investigate the role that African-American GIs played in carrying the civil rights movement to Germany, which was host to the largest contingent of U.S. troops deployed outside the U.S.
Between 1945 and the end of the Cold War, some 15-20 million American soldiers, families, and civilian employees lived in Germany. Between 2-3 million of those Americans were African American. By giving voice to their experience and to that of the people who interacted with them, we will expand the story of the African-American civil rights movement beyond the boundaries of the U.S.
This digital archive has three main goals: First, it will gather and preserve materials on an important but little known chapter of American and African-American history as well as transatlantic relations after the Second World War. Second, it will make these materials available worldwide and free of charge to scholars and teachers in the humanities. Third, it will foster the growth of a community of scholars, teachers, and students who are engaged in teaching and learning about the African-American civil rights movement and its reverberations outside the U.S.
For a list of U.S. military bases in Germany, please see here.
The oral history section is directed by Maria Höhn (Vassar College), Martin Klimke (GHI Washington), and Maggi Morehouse (JR Henderson Professor of Southern History, University of South Carolina, Aiken). If you want to share your personal experience by contributing to our oral history collection or in any other way, please do not hesitate to contact us at: oralhistory(at)aacvr-germany.com
A Breath of Freedom:
The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany
By Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke
Palgrave Macmillan October 2010
“A breakthrough in international history.“
– Brenda Gayle Plummer, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
author of Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960
Breath of Freedom:
Black Soldiers and the Battle for Civil Rights
Narrated by Cuba Gooding, Jr.; featuring John Lewis,
Colin Powell, Dieter Hildebrandt, etc.
MDR/ARTE, Smithsonian Network
Broadview, 2013, 90 min
> Premiers February 17, 2014, 8pm ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel
> View online
Ein Hauch von Freiheit:
Schwarze GIs, Deutschland und die US-Bürgerrechtsbewegung
Ein Film von Dag Freyer
> December 16, 2014, 10:05pm CET, 90 min. ARTE
> January 14, 2015, 10:45pm CET, 90 min. ARD
> View PDF
This website is a collaborative project of:
It is directed by: