How are the racial relations in Little Rock

(Anti) racism

Not only since the death of the African American George Floyd in a police operation, during which a police officer kneeled on his neck for almost eight minutes, has the black struggle for freedom in the United States received a complex and eloquent echo abroad and provoked strong emotional, political and cultural reactions. In earlier times there were movements all over Europe and especially in Germany that called for an end to discrimination on all levels. As part of a brief history of anti-racist networks between the USA and Germany, specific moments of resistance in the interwar period and during the Cold War are discussed below. It is based on the premise that the current anti-racist movements have precursors that not only got people to stand up for human rights, but also gave them new ideas on how to act together, achieve change and create solidarity. These form a history of the origins of anti-racist thinking and activism, which overlapped with other movements in Germany in the 20th century and show the strong interaction between local and global phenomena.

Connections between the wars

The aftermath of the devastation of World War I brought Germany a fragile peace for which the nation paid what was felt to be a dearly price, including the loss of its colonies. In the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, for example, the German colonies of German South West Africa, German East Africa, Togo and Cameroon were placed under British and French administrative sovereignty as mandate areas of the League of Nations.

So it happened that citizens of these former German colonies were stranded in their former "mother country". These Black Germans were active as activists against colonialism and racism in Germany, since the end of the German colonial era in no way meant the end of European colonial structures, attitudes and politics. Martin Dibobe, the first black train driver in Berlin's local traffic, and 18 other men from former German colonies, submitted a petition to the Reich Colonial Ministry and the Reichstag in June 1919. In it, they condemned racism, advocated giving Africans equal rights and legal recognition, and demanded participation in the new democratic system in Germany. They never received an answer, but it was the first collective effort to openly oppose the racism in the metropolis that was directed against the rights of African people in Europe and the colonies. [1]

In the same year there was a racist smear campaign about the so-called black shame. It was alleged that the French colonial soldiers of African origin deployed in the Rhineland behaved in a bestial and hypersexual manner and attacked white German women and children. Representatives of the German state and nationalist groups such as the Rhenish Women's League spread these claims in articles and pamphlets, on medals, stamps and postcards. [2] The British journalist Edmund D. Morel and the German-American activist Ray Beveridge agreed that the African soldiers were terrifying "savages" who, in their threat, represented a racial affront to "the German woman" - and thus also to the whole of Germany . [3] Black skin color coded them as deviating and beyond "honesty".

Black voices in Germany and elsewhere condemned the "Black Shame" campaign. The Cameroonian activist and actor Louis Brody complained about racial discrimination and violence against black people in Germany. For him, racism was an essential element of colonialism that poisoned the state body. [4] The African-American activist Mary Church Terrell, founding member of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, also criticized the sexualization and country-specific racism that the "Black Shame" campaign implied. She argued that the propaganda against the black soldiers in Germany was "just another brutal and plausible appeal to racist prejudice". [5]

The Afro-American philosopher Alain Locke and the Jamaica-born author Claude McKay, two well-known representatives of the Harlem Renaissance black cultural movement, also dealt with the controversy surrounding the deployment of French-African troops in Germany and confronted the negative connotation of African "primitivism" opposite. Locke traveled to the Rhineland, where he found that the allegations made in the "Black Shame" campaign were unfounded. McKay and Locke compared this to similarly bigoted assumptions about African Americans in the United States. Her internationally acclaimed statements corresponded to the vision of a post-war Europe in which racial relations could improve, while at the same time denouncing the hatred and violence to which people of African descent in Germany were exposed. [6]

Although the "Black Shame" campaign had its climax in the 1920s, the discourses and racist stereotypes it contained persisted in the 1930s - so much so that some descendants of the colonial soldiers deployed in the Rhineland were forcibly sterilized by the National Socialists in 1937 were.

In 1930, Trinidad-born George Padmore organized an international conference of black workers in Hamburg, at which the delegates demanded, among other things, universal workers' rights, the full independence of all colonies and the right to self-determination of all nations. Also in Hamburg he published "The Negro Worker" until 1931, the mouthpiece of the International Trade Union Committee for Black Workers. Immediately after taking power in 1933, the National Socialists ordered Padmore to be deported. In his works, Padmore stood up for the oppressed and exploited classes. As a self-confessed communist, his anti-racism was also internationalist. He addressed the manifold manifestations of racism and offered options for action aimed at an end to global class exploitation as well as racist and colonial oppression. Later he was to openly confess to being a follower and supporter of pan-African initiatives. In 1937, he and others founded the International African Service Bureau, a network with which the correspondence between African and Caribbean trade unionists and intellectuals was coordinated. [7]

These interwar developments suggest that anti-racist activism came about through intellectual and cultural means rather than through direct political confrontation. During the Nazi era, these transnational connections were retained - albeit in a different form. Articles on developments in Germany, on the racism of the National Socialists, on life under the Nazi regime and later on the experiences of Afro-American soldiers in post-war Germany appeared in Afro-American newspapers such as the "Chicago Defender" or the "Pittsburgh Courier". [8] Her experiences in occupied Germany, which were shaped by racist ascriptions, also clearly highlight the contradictions of democracy and the "equality before the law", which has been anchored in the Basic Law since 1949.

Post war solidarity

After the Second World War, an environment emerged in which spaces opened up for diversity. The presence of US soldiers in Germany enabled a productive exchange between them and the West German population. African-American soldiers campaigned for the establishment of a functioning democracy and freedom rights, while they themselves still served in an army that was subject to racist legal requirements and neither recognized their humanity nor honored their contribution to the war effort. Ironically, they experienced a level of freedom in post-war West Germany that they had never known before.

Germans in East and West, on the other hand, paid much more attention to racism outside their borders than to that in their own country. For example, German newspapers reported on US civil rights issues around 1957, when three years after the US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional, nine African-American students from violent demonstrators, with the support of the National Guard, visited the Little Rock Central High School was denied. [9] The growing interest in these topics was also evident in the much-noticed visits by prominent civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy in Frankfurt am Main and in East and West Berlin in 1964. This exchange also led Germans to demand steps against racism, while West German politics concentrated heavily on the containment of communism in all its manifestations.

In the 1960s, many Western leaders were also convinced that the black power movement threatened the white status quo. [10] Radical students of the Socialist German Student Union (SDS), who in 1967 declared their solidarity with the Black Power movement and other left black movements, saw it differently. [11] In addition, West German students formed alliances with their counterparts from the Global South - the connections extended to Iran, the Congo and other non-Western countries. This exchange of ideas and strategies in different directions shaped the student movement. A cooperative spirit was particularly evident when working with Afro-American soldiers. Above all, it was about the radical exposure of social breakpoints, for example through actions against US imperialism in Vietnam and the Afro-American fight against racist oppression. [12]

From 1969 to 1972 a partnership between German students and Afro-American soldiers was established with the Black Panther Solidarity Committee founded by the former SDS chairman and civil rights activist Karl Dietrich Wolff. The latter contributed to publicizing forms of discrimination that were widespread in the military and in German society. They complained about increasing racist tensions between soldiers at military locations such as Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Stuttgart. In addition, they drew attention to problems in the German living environment and their exclusion from certain places - such as pubs. Wolff and also the SDS spokesman Rudi Dutschke assumed that this alliance could help to damage the centers of US imperialism and the war machine of the USA, especially in the important West German partner state. African Americans contributed to this by evading military service in Vietnam. German students and African American soldiers planned meetings, teach-ins and protests together, and they also published the underground newspaper "Voice of the Lumpen". In addition to these initiatives, the Solidarity Committee organized protests in 1971 against the trial of Edgar Jackson and William Burrell, two Black Panther activists and ex-soldiers who were arrested and detained after injuring a guard who failed them wanted to leave the US Air Force Base Ramstein. [13]

The Black Power movement continued to receive support on both sides of the Berlin Wall, especially after the 1970 arrest of Afro-American communist activist Angela Davis for alleged complicity in a failed hostage-taking. [14] There were campaigns for the release of Angela Davis. Leading figures in the GDR, student activists, adults and children supported them with petitions, wrote letters or sent their costume jewelery. The fact that she was threatened with the death penalty led to even more emphatic protests by East German activists and authorities, especially because they compared racism in the USA with Nazi fascism. They placed international solidarity in the foreground and saw the case as an example of racist violence that got out of hand in the USA and as an expression of brutal American imperialism. Even after her release in 1972, Davis remained a celebrity. During her visits in 1972 and 1973, she was celebrated by the SED leadership.

Angela Davis wasn't the only black woman who had an influence on German grassroots movements. The Caribbean-American poet and activist Audre Lorde, who taught as a visiting professor at the Free University of Berlin in 1984, also encouraged black German intellectuals and white German feminists to protest against racism in the interests of a better future. Lorde traveled all over Germany to publicize her specifically black feminism, anti-racism and internationalism in public, cross-thematic lectures.

Anti-racist activism by black Germans

Through this legacy of black activism, the commitment of Lorde and the presence of a whole range of other black diaspora initiatives and artists in Germany, black German intellectual activists were mobilized and drew attention to their racist exclusion and exclusion from the state body . This was the beginning of their current movement, which also saw the founding of the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (today Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland) and the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche Frauen (today Adefra - Black Women in Germany). Local groups of the two political-cultural organizations formed in Frankfurt am Main, Berlin and other major West German cities. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, local groups were added in East German cities.

At the same time, black German activists tried to bring about changes through publications. May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye, who met at Lordes lectures at the Free University of Berlin, worked for the book "Confess color: Afro-German women on the trail of their history" with the white German feminist Dagmar Schultz, in their publishing house they released the volume in 1986. Before this grassroots movement emerged, Black Germans, who lived in predominantly white neighborhoods across the country, were hardly ever in contact with other members of the Black Diaspora. On the research trip for their book, Ayim and Oguntoye met other Black Germans all over the country, a solidarity community emerged that aroused a sense of belonging among Black Germans. Many saw "showing their colors" as a kind of black coming-out that confirmed the presence of black people in Germany. Right from the start, the book was conceived as a feminist and anti-racist interjection, offering Germans new insights into gender issues and racism and at the same time confronting them with the racist prejudices deeply rooted in their country, the colonial heritage and the exclusive concept of national identity and citizenship.

Anti-racist ideology and internationalist perspectives strengthened the Black German Movement in its approach, which included workshops, protests and lectures in various German cities. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Black Germans clearly criticized the renaissance of ethnic nationalism and neo-fascism in Germany and Europe. At international book fairs and lectures, they made contact with anti-racists and feminists who campaign for human rights, such as John La Rose in Great Britain or Ellen Kuzwayo in South Africa. These networks had the goal of eliminating racism altogether. The modern black German movement offered a platform to demand reforms and to change conditions in Germany. [15]

The German Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) began in 2016. It created a space for new critical methods that take into account the overlapping forms of oppression so that the living conditions for black Germans can be improved. In its calls to action, the German BLM movement is similar to those in the UK, France and the US. In Germany it manifests itself in particular in campaigns against state violence and for an end to racial and gender discrimination, whereby it also draws attention to the widespread police violence. The German BLM movement also focuses on the parallels between racist violence against black people in the USA and Germany. Other main concerns are to refute the myth that Germany is no longer a racist country and to warn against underestimating this legacy, referring to the continuing consequences of colonial history. BLM shows that there is still a lot to be done before we can speak of recognition of the consequences of racial discrimination and an end to this phenomenon in institutions and in everyday life.

In 2020, the participants in the German BLM protests in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg were able to build on the extensive history of anti-racist work and dedicate themselves to specifically German racism, which educational scientist and gender researcher Maureen Maisha Auma describes as "super whiteness".She assumes that this "super whiteness" is an integral part of the German social structure, whose history includes responsibility for the genocide of the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa as well as for the Holocaust in Germany-occupied Europe. [16] Like the Black German Movement, BLM is directed against the invisibility of Black Germans and other people of color in a country in which "hyphenated Germans" are still struggling with the fact that they apparently do not belong, allegedly still arriving are understood or supposedly come from somewhere else - an aspect that distinguishes the German BLM movement from those in other countries.


All of these stories are important because they confront us with the fact that racism is not a US export, but homemade - and that the black German diaspora has long been marginalized and ignored. They show us that different manifestations and struggles of the black liberation movement have found their place in Germany. Black people and people of color have called for an end to racism and imperialism and have recognized how these phenomena affect all black people in Germany and elsewhere. The resurgence of right-wing political movements and the growing importance of populist attitudes in traditional conservative parties directed against Black Germans, people of color and migrants in Germany show how necessary the recent campaigns are.

In the midst of all these conflicts, in the midst of all this hopelessness, there is also progress that gives hope, for example the renaming of Berlin's "M-Strasse" to "Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Strasse". [17] Anton Wilhelm Amo was a Black German Enlightenment philosopher and the first person of African descent to study at a Christian university in Europe. The polyglot thinker not only wrote dissertations in Halle and Jena, but also taught at several famous universities. In his first academic paper, he questioned the legal basis for enslavement of African people in Europe. [18] Amo wrote about slavery, liberation, and rights at a time when people of African descent were a chained commodity. Years of grassroots activism by Black Germans and other activists and organizations made this renaming possible. It confirms Amo's importance and saves him from oblivion. This process is even more important because the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck organized an international conference in Berlin from 1884 to 1885 at which the colonial powers divided Africa among themselves. Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Stra├če is close to the venue of this conference and stands for the refusal to forget this colonial legacy.

Just like the narratives presented here, Amo's presence in the Berlin urban landscape enables access to Black History and the spaces associated with it. All of this reminds us that the black liberation struggle continues. Its past and present influence each other and show us that more changes will come - and must come, as they are essential to curb the spread of racism.

Translation from English: Jan Fredriksson, Senden.