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“It was much more difficult functioning in the U.S. than it was in Europe. You know you could run and hide from rockets coming out of Aachen, Germany. But you couldn't run and hide from the kind of verbal abuse you got in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi.“

Walter Patrice, WWII veteran, Poughkeepsie (NY)




New Documentary:
"Ein Hauch von Freiheit" (Breath of Freedom)
December 16, 10:05pm CET on Arte
> more


"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
> more


"Freed's enduring photos of march part of exhibit"
> more


Article by
Sophie Lorenz:
„Heldin des anderen Amerikas“
Die DDR-Solidaritätsbewegung
für Angela Davis, 1970–1973.
> more

New Film:
"The West Point -
Vassar College Initiative"
> more

A Breath of Freedom
By Maria Höhn &
Martin Klimke
Palgrave Macmillan October 2010
> more



African American Civil Rights and Germany in the 20th Century

Conference at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)
October 1 - 4, 2009

Jointly organized by the German Historical Institute, Washington DC and Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)

Supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

Conveners: Maria Höhn (Vassar College) and Martin Klimke (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC)


  • Conference Release Vassar College > more

Matthew Vassar Lecture – Conference Keynote by Angela Davis:

"Between Critical Theory and Civil Rights: A Sixties' Journey from Boston to Frankfurt to San Diego"

October 2, 2009 - Vassar College, Poughkeepsie (NY)


Kelly Shout: "Vassar, Höhn assemble top Civil Rights scholars", in: The Miscellany News, October 26, 2009.

Peter Köpf: "Rassismus, Amerikas größter Exportartikel," in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 14, 2009.
> View as PDF

Sebastian Moll: "Kongress in New York - Bürgerbewegung und Bürgerrechte," Frankfurter Rundschau, October 07, 2009.
> View as PDF


Conference Program

Wednesday, September 30

5:00 pm     Movie Screening - The Negro Soldier (1944)
(Rosenwald Screening Room, Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film)

Directed by Stuart Heisler, United States War Department
Introduced by Mia Mask, Vassar College

6:00 pm     Lecture
(Rosenwald Screening Room)

Fighting in the Jim Crow Army:
A Black Sergeant Remembers Buchenwald

Leon Bass
, World War II Veteran, Philadelphia


Thursday, October 1

1:00 – 3:00 pm     Check-in at Hotel

Conference Opening: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Germany

(Villard Room, College Center)

5:00 pm     Welcome Addresses
Maria Höhn
, Vassar College / Martin Klimke, GHI Washington
Dean of the Faculty Jon Chenette

5:30 pm     Panel Discussion (Mildred C. Thompson Lecture)
Tracing an Untold History:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Visit to Cold War Berlin in 1964

Chairs: Maria Höhn / Martin Klimke

Roland Stolte, Marienkirche, Berlin
Alcyone Scott, Midland Lutheran College, Nebraska
Laura Stapane, Oldenburg/GHI Washington

6:30 pm     Exhibition Opening – African American Civil Rights and Germany
(Palmer Gallery, College Center)


Friday, October 2

8:00 – 8:30 am     Breakfast
(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)

Section I: Transatlantic Journeys

(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Tyrone Simpson, Vassar College

8:30 am     W.E.B. DuBois and the German Alltag
Kenneth Barkin, University of California, Riverside

9:00 am     Discussion

9:25 am     Tinkering Toward Utopia: German-Speaking Émigrés at the Black Mountain College and the Civil Rights Discourse since 1933
Karl-Heinz Füssl, Technical University of Berlin

9:45 am     Discussion

10:10 am   Medical Apartheid: African American and German Scientists, Civil Rights, and Racial Policies
Harriet Washington, Rochester

10:30 am   Discussion

10:55 am   Coffee Break

Section II: Black Soldiers, Germans, and World War II
(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Dan Puckett, Troy University

11:15 am   “We are just like you”: Prisoners; Oppressed; Second-Class Men: German Prisoners of War and African Americans in the United States During the Second World War
Matthias Reiss, University of Exeter

11:45 am   Discussion

12:10 pm   Military Desegregation: Civil Rights for Black Soldiers
Maggi Morehouse, University of South Carolina Aiken

12:30 pm   Discussion

12:55 pm   Lunch
(Multi-Purpose Room)

Section III: Debating Civil Rights on Both Sides of the Atlantic

(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Quincy Mills, Vassar College

2:30 pm     Charging Hypocrisy: African Americans, Nazi Germany and Human Rights
Christina Oppel, University of Münster

3:00 pm     Discussion

3:25 pm     Hate Story to Knife Peace: Black Soldiers in West Germany in the U.S. Press
Christine Knauer, University of Tübingen

3:45 pm     Discussion

4:10 pm     U.S. Civil Rights: Press Coverage and Analysis in West Germany, 1949-1967
Robert Sackett, University of Colorado

4:30 pm     Discussion

4:55 pm     Coffee Break

Matthew Vassar Lecture – Conference Keynote
(Villard Room)

6:45 pm    Welcome
Dean of the Faculty Jon Chenette
Maria Höhn
, Vassar College / Martin Klimke, GHI Washington

7:00 pm    Between Critical Theory and Civil Rights:
A Sixties' Journey from Boston to Frankfurt to San Diego

Angela Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz (emerita)


Saturday, October 3

8:00-8:30 am     Breakfast
(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)

Section IV: Bringing the Cold War Home

(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Peggy Piesche, Vassar College

9:00 am     You are the Finest and the Sharpest MC I have Ever had. I am Jazzly Yours, Satchmo: Louis Armstrong in East Germany
Helma Kaldewey, Tulane University, New Orleans

9:30 am     Discussion

9:55 am     Creating a New Home: When Black Soldiers Brought Their German Wives to the U.S.
Daniel Lee, University of California, Berkeley

10:15 am   Discussion

10:40 am   Coffee Break

Section V: Framing Civil Rights

(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Mia Mask, Vassar College

11:00 am   A Reluctant Idealist: Peter von Zahn and the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s
Eli Nathans
, University of Western Ontario

11:30 am   Discussion

11:55 am   Democratic Re-Education in Germany and African American Civil Rights: Screening Color Blindness in the Films of the Marshall Plan
Frank Mehring
, Free University of Berlin

12:20 pm   Discussion

12:55 pm   Lunch

Section VI: Jazz and Civil Rights in a Divided Germany
(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Brian Mann, Vassar College

2:30 pm   The African American Civil Rights Movement as Guardian Angel of the Jazz Scene in the GDR
Christian Schmidt-Rost
, Free University of Berlin

3:00 pm   Discussion

3:25 pm   From Ally to Threat: Joachim-Ernst Berendt, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and German Jazz Discourse
Andrew Hurley
, University of Melbourne

3:45 pm   Discussion

4:10 pm   Coffee break

Roundtable: Expanding the African American Diaspora
(Villard Room, College Center)
Chair: Manfred Berg, University of Heidelberg

4:30 pm Gerald Horne, Houston University
Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton University
Sabine Broeck, University of Bremen
Matt Herron, Take Stock, San Rafael, CA


Sunday, October 4

8:00-9:00 am     Breakfast
(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)

Section VII: The Commodification of Civil Rights

(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Chair: Eve Dunbar, Vassar College

9:00 am     Fashion Icon, Intellectual, Political Prisoner: Angela Davis in the West-German Imagination
Katharina Gerund, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

9:30 am     Discussion

9:55 am     Patterns and Politics of West German “Afroamericanophilia” in the late 1960s
Moritz Ege, Humboldt University of Berlin

10:20 am   Discussion

10:55 am   Coffee break

Concluding Discussion: History and Memory Across the Atlantic

(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)
Moderator: Anke Orlepp, GHI Washington

11:15 am
Debra Tanner Abell, Daughter of African American soldier stationed in Germany in late 1940s and German mother (Pittsburgh)
Leon Bass, WW II Veteran (Philadelphia)
KD Wolff, Former head of the SDS, Founder Black Panther Solidarity Committee, and founder of
Roter Stern and Stromfeld Verlag (Frankfurt)
Joe McPhee, stationed in Germany in 1964-65, he has returned there frequently to perform at Jazz concerts (Poughkeepsie)

12:45 pm   Boxed Lunch
(Multi-Purpose Room, College Center)

Organizational Note:
-Presentations: 20 min
-Discussions: 25 min
First presentation of each panel incl. 10 min for introduction of panelists

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