“Do you know what it’s like for a Negro to be among the ‘conquerors’ instead of the defeated? We learned about it for the first time when we ‘occupied’ Germany and none of us ever got over it. We will never go back to the old way again.“
William Gardner Smith, Interview in the New York Post (September 1959)
"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.
Sarah Barksdale is a Doctoral Fellow in the History of African Americans and Germans/Germany at the GHI. She received her B.A. in American Studies and African American Studies from Smith College, and M.A. from the University of North Carolina in United States History. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate at UNC, Chapel Hill specializing in 20th-century United States military history. An expansion her M.A. thesis project on Black soldiers in combat arms, World War II, her dissertation looks at African American veterans of the war and their influence on the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.
Sarah’s research interests include U.S. military history, African Americans in the military, desegregation of the U.S. military, 20th century African American literature, and global history.
Abstract to the Dissertation Project: “Stationed in the Borderlands: Black Troops and Double Consciousness, 1940-1953”
This dissertation will examine and analyze the experiences of African American servicemen in World War II through the lens of double consciousness. I argue that the black experience in the U.S. military and encounters with different cultures overseas changed and raised consciousness in African American troops in both productive and destructive ways. In turn, this new consciousness contributed to racial progress and new attitudes on the homefront upon their return. Using an interdisciplinary approach to this topic, I will incorporate oral testimonies from black veterans, theory on double consciousness, and elements of 1940s black literature to provide a comprehensive cultural overview of the black community in general and servicemen in particular. This study also makes a critical connection between World War II and the Civil Rights Movement. The veterans’ stories and their role in the black community played an important role in the desegregation of the U.S. military and subsequently in further progress toward equal rights. The black military experience provides not only a deeper understanding of personal psychology, but also a more comprehensive picture of the implications of black service in the Second World War.
Sophie Lorenz is a doctoral fellow in the History of African Americans and Germany at the German Historical Institute. She studied medieval and modern history, political science and public law at the University of Heidelberg. In 2009 she completed her M.A. with a thesis about Black Power, the student protest movement and Black Panther solidarity in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s at the University of Heidelberg. Currently, she is doctoral candidate at the University of Heidelberg working on a Ph.D. project on ’Peace, Friendship, Solidarity’? The German Democratic Republic and Angela Davis, 1965 – 1989.
Sophie’s research interests include 20th-Century German & American History, Transnational History, Cold War Cultures, Black Transnationalism and the History of Ethnicity and Race Relations.
Abstract to the Dissertation Project: “’Peace, Friendship, Solidarity’? East Germany and Angela Davis, 1965 – 1989”
This dissertation explores the relationship between Angela Davis, one of the leading intellectual figures of the black freedom movement since the early 1970s and East Germany, from a transnational perspective. Starting with Davis’ first visit to East Germany in 1965 and ending with the collapse of the regime in 1989, the focus of this study is on personal interactions, cultural perceptions as well as on the political and cultural recontextualization of Davis in East Germany. By understanding this project as part of a transnational history of Cold War Culture, it aims to show how, in the course of those encounters, Davis turned into a regular feature of East German national memory against the backdrop of Cold War antagonism. More broadly, this relationship, thus, illuminates how nontraditional forms of collaboration as for example solidarity movements played also a role in Cold War politics. At the same time, by telling the story of this relationship this study aims to map the roots and routes of Davis’s political and intellectual development as part of the history of the African American struggle for freedom and equality between the late 1960s and early 1980s.
An examination of this relationship, thus, opens up a new perspective through which Davis can be placed in a longer tradition of black radical activism with a global agenda in the 20th century. Thus, including the story of this relationship as another piece of the puzzle into the Cold War narrative adds to the recent historiography of the black freedom struggle which stresses the global impact of civil rights and black power groups during the Cold War era.
Paul Farber is a PhD candidate in American Culture at the University of Michigan. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania in Urban Studies. His dissertation is a study of representations of the Berlin Wall in American literature and popular culture. He is currently a doctoral fellow in the History of African Americans and Germans at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.
Paul’s research interests include African American literary studies, urban visual and sonic cultures, Cold War cultural memory, and performance studies.
Abstract to the Dissertation Project: “Where is the Berlin Wall? Boundaries of Freedom in American Culture“
This dissertation explores the Berlin Wall as a key site of encounter for Americans’ critical projects related to their own history, identity, and freedom. I examine the cultural productions of artists and intellectuals who visit and later incorporate the Wall into their expressive works, from 1961 through the present. Based on their encounters and travels within Cold War Berlin, these figures produce works about the Berlin Wall (including novels, popular music, photography, poetry, autobiography, visual art, film, and stage productions) that also correspond to constructions of social division and displacement in their home country. They do so to shed light on the challenges of U.S.-sponsored freedom in the post-World War II period, and engage such crises as Racial Segregation, Cold War Citizenship, Sexual Liberation, Neoliberalism and the Racialized Public Sphere, and Globalization.
By routing their cultural productions through the geopolitical crossroads of Berlin, these figures also wrestle with the complex histories of the city and Germany, especially around issues of post-Holocaust Jewish trauma, German student movement politics, Afro-German identity formation, and German reunification. More broadly, they explore the chaos endemic to the project of unity.
Natalia King is a PhD candidate at Boston College, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She is currently a doctoral fellow in the history of African Americans and Germans at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC.
Natalia’s research interests include Modern European history, Modern German history, the African Diaspora, and race.
Abstract to the Dissertation Project: “Friends of Freedom, Allies of Peace: The German Democratic Republic and the African-American Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1989“
This dissertation examines the appropriation and re-contextualization of the African-American civil rights movement by the East German government between 1945 and 1989. I explore the East German discourse on the civil rights movement, as well as the groups in the GDR that organized solidarity associations supporting black America. In addition, I examine the African-American civil rights activists who visited or lived in East Germany and how they expressed the movement. I argue that the East German government molded and repackaged the rhetoric of the civil rights movement in order to create a dialogue establishing its legitimacy as a state among the international community, as well as its own citizens.
S. Marina Jones is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She finished her M.A. in Translation in 2001 at Kent State University. In 2005, she completed her M.A. in Germanic Languages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a thesis titled “Autobiographical Voyages: The German Black Atlantic.“
Her research and teaching interests include modern European, women's and gender history, the African Diaspora and race relations. Marina is currently a doctoral fellow in the history of African Americans and Germans at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC.
Abstract to the Dissertation Project: “'Outsiders Within': Afro-Germans in West Germany – Discourses, Perceptions and Experiences, 1949 – 1989“
This dissertation project analyzes the West German discourses of Afro-Germans in print media and the Afro-German perceptions of these discourses as well as Afro-German experiences between 1949 and 1989. The following four main groups of primary sources are used: documents of the government and the political parties, print media (newspapers, political journals and illustrated magazines) of a broad political spectrum, Afro-German autobiographies and up to thirty-five oral history interviews with Afro-German men and women of three different age cohorts (born between 1940 and 1980).
The project makes a contribution to the emerging field of Black German and European Studies by contrasting the discussions of a mainly “white” German society with the Afro-German perspective. It maps the path to changing notions of German identity and to the integration of different groups of Germans into West German society.