Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Black History in Germany & Europe (English version): An African-German educator speaks out

Before I begin with the English version of the previous German-language post about Black History in Germany and Europe I would like to give thanks to fellow blog authors who have given their support by writing about this subject and linking to our posts here at Jewels and at The Atlantic Review. A special thanks goes out to Ethan Zuckerman of the Global Voices Project at Harvard University Law School for a wonderful write-up about our initiative at his blog, “My Heart’s in Accra”. I would also like to thank the folks in charge of The History Carnival for including a mention about our project in their 49th Carnival of History roundup over at the History is Elementary blog. Here is some background on how the Carnival of History project got started written by Ralph Luker of the History News Network group blog, Cliopatria. In short I would like to thank everyone out there who has linked to or posted about the Black History in Germany and Europe blog project and/or has spread the gospel by other means. Thank you all very much.

The translation from German to English below was a real pleasure for me to do and I would again like to give thanks to Patrick, the author of this article, for his fine work and his enthusiasm about the subject matter and his passion for history. Patrick is a teacher of Classical Greek and Roman History here in Germany and I cannot say enough about how much fun it is to work with him and all of the other members of our BHM-Europe 2007 team on this project. Note that I have added a number of links to additional online resources in the post below and I have focused on translating to American English the heart & soul of what Patrick has written “auf Deutsch” vs. a literal word-for-word translation. If someone out there notes any gross errors in this translation, please notify me with a comment so that I may correct it. Thank you.

If you are new reader at Jewels in the Jungle and don’t have a clue to what we are talking about in the paragraphs above, please start with our Black History in Europe Post No. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the series before continuing.

Black History?
What I have learned about African-German and African-European History at primary & secondary school and in my university studies.

As has already been stated I, Patrick, am contributing an article about black History in Germany and Europe. As has also been previously stated I am a historian (accurately described a history teacher) and an Afro-German. For thirteen years I have received instruction in history at diverse levels of the Bremen educational system (primary and secondary school). I have received an additional five years of instruction in history at the University of Bremen. That makes all together 18 years of study. Eighteen years of history lessons__ wow, that’s a lot. There must be something to show after such a long period of instruction in history!

Of course there is something to show. I ask myself, "Patrick, what have you learned about the history of blacks in Germany i.e. black Germans in all this time? (Answer:) Nothing. What do you mean nothing? That cannot be! There are several hundred thousand black people living in Germany and many are black Germans! Are they there since only a few years, or what? Cannot be, because you yourself are 30 years-old!“

The only thing that I have been taught about black people in Germany is that after the First World War (WW I) black soldiers from the French colonies (mainly Senegalese) were stationed in the German Rhineland as occupation troops and after the Second World War (WW II) there were black (American) GI’s stationed in the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany, formerly West Germany). Members of both groups of black soldiers developed friendships and relationships with local German women and also had children here.

That the German and European Jews were hunted and exterminated during the Nationalist Socialist Era (Nazi Germany, The Third Reich) was covered thoroughly in our history lessons. Also the fact that along with the Jews other large groups of victims such as the Sinti and Roma (European nomadic people, “gypsies”), handicapped people, homosexuals, communists, democrats, certain Christians (i.e. Jehova’s Witnesses) shared the same horrible fate of extermination. However the fate of the so-called "Rheinlandbastarde“ (Rheinland bastards) as well as the fate of the WW I black French colonial soldiers was not covered in our lessons. Not only did many black soldiers and their families suffer social segregation and exclusion and defamation, they were along with other groups of people victims of forced (state sponsored) sterilization. The famous African-German Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi (born Jan. 19, 1926 in Hamburg, see his autobiography Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany), was able to survive the Nationalist Socialist regime because his mother often kept him hidden.

Not a word over these events in our history studies at school, not a word about it at the annual Holocaust memorial ceremonies with the never-ending speeches of “sorrow”. If one were to take an opinion survey of the German street and ask which population groups during the Nazi era in Europe were hunted and persecuted, many people could at least name some of the affected groups. But black Germans during the Third Reich, that would occur to hardly anyone. How so, as it is not even an issue.

The German historians and social scientists who have the responsibility for repairing this knowledge gap in our society know a great many sub-disciplines of history i.e. Poltical Science, Anthropology, History of Women and Gender Studies, Military History, History of Medicine, History of Technology, History of Science, Sociology, History of Business and Industry, History of Everyday Life, History of Mentality, and so forth – "Black History" respectively "Afro-German History" as a sub-discipline of history education is not in their realm of knowledge.

Black History cannot always be about the victimization of black people throughout history. Sure, black Europeans as a minority group in Europe were victims of marginalization and persecution and this topic should be researched thoroughly both scientifically and academically. But that is not all. What about the contributions to culture and the arts by black Europeans including black Germans? For example, what was their daily life like? Did they have their own identity and mentality or were they in fact an integrated and socially equal part of European identity and mentality of their time. Were they simply representative of typical European and German culture or were they an important part of a growing and diverse European macro-culture (civilization)? Were there blacks in Germany and throughout Europe before the First World War (WW I) and if so, how did they get here and how did they live? This and much more must be of utmost priority in the study of Black History in Europe.

The African-German Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-1759), the lawyer, philosopher, and later professor at the University of Halle and University of Jena (an Afro-German professor in the 18th Century!), before a few weeks ago I had no knowledge about this man. Amo, one of the most important African-German historical figures—and I had never heard of him! But no one had ever told me anything about Amo and only through a coincidence did I gain information about him. How can it be that Amo, a man who rates amongst the great German academics of the 18th Century, that there is nothing taught about him in history lessons at German primary and secondary schools, in the curriculum for history, philosophy, and law studies at German universities and colleges? Why in Germany is there no open and public discussion about this personality who has contributed so much to German culture and Geistesleben (social spirit). Why doesn’t the renowned German historian, Guido Knopp, produce a TV program about Anton Wilhelm Amo for the ZDF network (Germany’s 2nd national TV network)? Where is the German History Commission (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) with their scholars and experts who can examine and investigate information about Amo and close this gaping hole in our knowledge of Germany’s heritage? Why doesn’t the German President Horst Köhler or the German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a press conference and speak about Anton Wilhelm Amo, to enlighten the German public and to support actions to get this problem with history education in Germany corrected?

In my opinion Black European History must be taught in a comprehensive European context. This would be in combination with the following questions:
1. Since when have people of African descent lived in Europe?
2. Since when have African-Europeans existed?

Most people would probably give a spontaneous answer that African-Europeans appeared after the First World War but we have already established that Anton Wilhelm Amo lived in Germany in the 18th Century. Who is aware that Alessandro dé Medici (July 22, 1510 - January 6, 1537) was an African-European? Alessandro dé Medici, known as il Moro (der Maure – the Moor), was from 1530 to1537 the Prince of Florence and thereby ruler of one of the most important and powerful, both culturally and politically, Italian city-states in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Obviously his "skin color" was not a hindrance_and that is not only interesting but also for many contemporaries surely remarkable. What about racism? Did it not matter to the Florentines, specifically the most influential Florentines, that a black ruled the city-state of Florence?

But racism as such is a belief system that has not existed long enough in time that one can really know what is meant by the term. In a broad context it did not even exist until the beginning of the Early Modern period. It is in close connection with the legitimization of European colonialism and the slave trade of the Early Modern era (starting in the 16th century). Just as with the contempt and disdain for the Muslim Arab by the crusaders of the Middle Ages, the scorn and disrespect for “the wild savages” during the Colonial period was a form of “cultural racism”, meaning that primarily a primitive culture was disrespected and mishandled and not even in the first instances based upon any biological differences.

A systematic “biological racism” first appeared in the 19th Century. This in connection with that epoch helps us to understand what we mean when one speaks about “Colonialism”— the nearly global mastery and exploitation of the world by European states and cultures in the 19th Century. The dubious claim as founder of the Modern Era and systematic biological racism can be attributed to Arthur de Gobineau (July 14, 1816 – October 13, 1882, see “An Essay on the Inequalities of the Human Races”, 1853-1855).

When one asks in which European epoch did a brisk interaction between Africa and Europe begin one should not first think about the Early Modern period. One would be better off starting with the antiquity (Classical Antiquity period). During the Classical Antiquity period there was not only a more personal and cultural exchange between Africa and Europe. No, there was much more to the relationship in cultural and political terms as a part of Africa was also a part of Europe. The Roman Empire (the first united European state) had several African provinces. Aegyptus (today Egypt and a part of the Sudan), Cyrenaica (part of Libya), Africa (today Tunisia and a part of Algeria) and Mauretania (in modern Morocco and a part of Algeria). There were black Romans_Africans, who were citizens of Rome and as businesspeople, officials, and soldiers traveled, worked, and lived throughout the entire Roman Empire.

In the military of the Roman Empire black legionaires (soldiers) were in considerable number. The Legio III Cyrenaica created in 36 B.C. by Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) when he was Governor of the Province Cyrenaica and the Legio II Parthica setup by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus was comprised of African soldiers among others. That very same legion (Legio II Parthica) served in Roman Britain (Britannia) to fight against the indigenous tribes there. You have to stop to think about that. Black Romans that hunted and fought against the white “savages” of ancient Britain (the early Britons and the Picts)!

But the story gets even better: The very Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (emperor from 93-211 A.D.) who setup this Roman legion (Legio II Parthica) and led the military operations in Roman Britain was himself a black (from Leptis Magna in the Roman Province Africa). A black Roman Emperor! Ruler of one of the largest and most powerful empires that the world had ever seen_and today one has to ask when will the time come when there will be a black president of the United States. Then (in Roman times) we were already a bit further along. The Severan Dynasty consisted of other emperors directly related to Emperor Septimius Severus, namely Caracalla (211-217 A.D.) and Geta (211 A.D.), Elababal (218-222 A.D.) and Severus Alexander (222-235 A.D.).

Also the Christian Church during the Roman Empire had many Africans in their ranks. Among them we find some of the most famous names of early Christian History including three fathers of the early Church, Tertullian, St. Cyprian and St. Augustine of Hippo, all of them born in the Roman province of Africa. There were also African popes including the 3rd African pope Gelasius I (pope from 492-496 A.D.) who formulated very important doctrines for the papacy and the Roman Empire*(see Note 3).

With this short overview I have attempted to make clear that Black History is a broad, interesting field of study and research for Germany and Europe and that it has earned its place as a separate field and respected discipline of History and Social Science education and scholarship. The history of the African-Europeans extends back through time for at least two thousand years. If African-Europeans today must exhibit self-confidence in order to reach their life goals as individuals and as members of a society, then it is not something spectacular, then it is not something new. No, it is, historically speaking, the return to normalcy.


NOTE 1: Aphra Behn (a pseudonym) has written an incredible article for the Progressive Historians blog titled “What Color is Your Valentine? Black History at PH” and cross-posted to the very popular Daily Kos blog on February 14, 2007. Aphra starts with the story of Saint Valentine (Valentinus) possibly being an African martyr during the Roman Empire and then fascinates readers with a romp through history showing the legacy and heritage of Africans and African-Europeans all over the place.

Aphra Behn’s “What Color is Your Valentine” is a perfect compliment to Patrick’s article above and to our Black History in Europe blog project as it delves even deeper into this very interesting subject matter. It is a must read piece of work written by an accomplished U.S. history educator and blogger, Aphra Behn. Also see the Progressive Historians Mission Statement to better understand why a sound foundation in history and the humanities is as important today as it ever was in__ human history.

NOTE 2: The modern day term “black” as applied to a race of people, people with ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa, and people with dark complexions is different from the thinking of the citizens of Rome (Roman Empire). See the resources listed below for further reading and study on this subject.

Note 3: An excerpt from Wikipedia about Pope Gelasius I:

During the Acacian schism, Gelasius went further than his predecessors in asserting the primacy of Rome over the entire Church, East and West, and he presented this doctrine in terms that set the model for subsequent popes asserting the claims of papal supremacy.

In 494, Gelasius wrote a very influential letter, known from its incipit as Duo sunt, to Anastasius. This letter established the dualistic principle that would underlie all Western European political thought for almost a millennium. In the letter Gelasius expressed a distinction between "two powers", which he called the "holy authority of bishops" (auctoritas sacrata pontificum) and the "royal power" (regalis potestas). These two powers, auctoritas lending justification to potestas, and potestas providing the executive strength for auctoritas were, he said, to be considered independent in their own spheres of operation, yet expected to work together in harmony.

Resources on the history of the Roman emperors and the Roman Empire:
Bread and circuses by Adrian Murdoch – adventures in the later Roman Empire
De Imperatoribus Romanis – an encyclopedia of Roman rulers and their families
De Imperatoribus Romnis – Septimius Severus, emperor of Rome (193-211 A.D.)
BBC Ancient History - Romans, Ancient Tribes of Britain, British History

Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy
18th Century German Philosophy prior to Kant (Christian Thomasius, Christian Wolff)

Recent history education news in Europe:
Germany seeks joint history book – BBC News 03/02/07
Germany plans new EU wide history book – The Guardian 02/27/07
Call for European history book as education ministers meetDeutsche Welle 03/02/07

Black European Studies Project @ Johannes Gutenberg University at Mainz
Changing the Color of European History: the need for multiculturalism in studying the European experience by Lydia Lyndsey and Carlton Wilson

H-Net Review (Humanities and Social Sciences Network)
Other Germans. Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender, and Memory in the Third Reich by Tina M. Campt – University of Michigan Press 2004

University of Arkansas (U.S.A.) – a presentation on Afro-German History 02/08/06
The Secret Germans: Examples of Afro-German History and Culture by Kathleen Condray

Northern Illinois University – Graduate Program in History
Bibliography of books and articles dealing with race in pre- and post-WWII Germany

Dialog International (German-American opinion, politics, and culture)
American Genes (the search for fathers and children after WW II) – 03/27/06

Spiegel International archives (Der Spiegel magazine online – English edition)
The Final Days of World War II (a multi-part special feature)
Talking with Holocaust Survivors “At Home Nowhere and Everywhere” – 11/27/06
Spiegel Interview with Holocaust Monument Architect Peter Eisenman – 05/09/05

US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)
Blacks during the holocaust
Black History Month special feature (2002)

Black History education news in North America (1970):
Black Studies: A Painful Birth – TIME Magazine (archives) January 26, 1970

Resources on scientific / biological racism and racism theory:
Antipode: A Radical Journey of Geography by James M. Blout (Vol. 23, 1992) University of Illinois at Chicago, The Theory of Cultural Racism (pgs. 289-299)
Racism: a short history by G.M. Frederickson (Princeton University Press, 2002)
RACE – The Power of an Illusion @ PBS & California Newsreel (April 2003)
The Historical Origins and Development of Racism by George M. Frederickson – Stanford University
Wikipedia – scientific racism definition


sabado said...

What amazes me most about the Holocaust tale is the fact that the Jews killed in the Holocaust are mentioned thousand times, while 40 members of my family murdered by the the Jewish CHEKA, in Posad Pokrovskoe, are never mentioned at all. Is that because the murderers of my family were Jews?

Black River Eagle said...

I really can't say as I am not an expert on the Jewish Holocaust of WWII. However, as Patrick points out in the post above a number of people and ethnic groups that died at the hands of facists in WWII were largely ignored by historians and politicians and so forth.

I wasn't aware of the CHEKA but looked it up and learned that it was the early 20th Century predecessor to the Russian KGB. Perhaps you should direct your question to Russia's President Putin as he knows a lot about the history of the KGB.

Astrea said...

from aphra--thanks and I'm glad you liked the St. Valentine diary. You might enjoy my series on Thomas Peters, Black Loyalists in the American Revolution, and the foundation of Sierra Leone as well..

merci! danke!

Black River Eagle said...

Thank you Aphra (Astrea) for stopping by and having a look at our work. Your piece at the Progressive Historians blog on St. Valentine and other historical figures was a real inspiration for me. It's an honor to have you here as a new visitor and please come back to read the follow-on posts for this series. I need help from historians like yourself to keep me honest and on track.

Wir hab zu danken! Aphra Behn of the Progressive Historians laidies and gentlemen. Yes Ma'am, you've made my day!

Koluki said...

Just to say thanks for your visit and comment on my blog and to let you know of the following message, which might be of interest to you and possibly others:

x-posted from H-Net Announcement
Date: 2007-03-11
Call for authors: Encyclopedia of Blacks in European

"Encyclopedia of Blacks in European Civilization"
The two-volume "Encyclopedia of Blacks in European
Civilization," scheduled to be published by Greenwood
Press in 2008, currently seeks contributors.
Candidates must be willing to write entries totaling at
least 1,000 words. Preference will be given to college
professors, published writers, and advanced graduate
students, but others qualified to write on entries
focusing on the depiction and contribution of black
Africans in European history and literature will also be
considered. Deadline for submissions will be four
months after the date of assignment. Please do not
respond to this call unless you are confident that you
can complete your contribution(s)by that date.
Compensation for accepted entries will $20 per 1,000
words. Those whose entries total 4,000 words or more
may choose instead to receive the set of the
encyclopedia, which will be sent to contributors at
If you are interested in writing for this important
reference work, please send a CV to:
Eric Martone:
Qualified candidates will receive a listing of available entries.
Prospective contributors will receive an assignment,
contributors' guidelines, and sample entries by e-mail followed
by a release form mailed from the publisher to be signed and
returned. Completed entries are subject to the normal editing
process required for quality publications and are accepted for
publication at the discretion of the editor, advisory board, and

Aziya said...

This is to express my joy having to read something about blacks in Germany. I am a Nigeria and have been living in Germany for the past 8 years. I am writing my doctor program on Nigerians in Germany. I hope to contribute my little part to research of blacks in Germany.
Well done job. Keep the ball rolling!

Black River Eagle said...

Thank you Aziya for stopping by and reading our work on this project. We will be continuing with the project Black and African History in Europe this month (May 2007) so please stay tuned. We would certainly welcome any inputs on the subject that you may have so contact me by email if you are interested in helping us. (see the lower right-hand corner of this blog for the address).

Good luck with your university studies and your Ph.D. thesis on Nigerians in Germany.

dweiums said...

Great job. My husband and I are forever debating the placing of Blacks in History. This blog entry has given us a bit of a creative spark, and we've blogged your essay on our Black Primetime site.


Anonymous said...

You might want to check out this site: . You have so much to contribute beyond the mainly North American and Africa based content that I find on the site.

QUARTET said...

I have been looking for information regarding Africans in Germany, Poland, and Prussia in the mid 1800s. I have a photo of my great-great grandmother who is said to have emigrated from Bohemia to the US around 1850. Her last name was Schneider and she appears to be of African decent. Most of the census data shows she is from Germany, Bohemia, Poland or Prussia. She married a light skinned man from the same area and through the generation her dark features have totally disappeared in her descendants. Does it see possible that a family with African origins could have been living in Germany in the 1850s.

BRE said...

Dear Quartet,

Yes, it is very possible that your great, great, grandmother may have been of African descent and lived in Germany or another Western European country in the mid-nineteenth century. To give you an example there were more than 30,000 Africans living and working in Lisboa (Lisbon) during the 16th century shortly after the Portuguese explorations of the West coast of Africa. England, Italy, and other European countries all had small populations of Africans and mixed race (African-European) people from the 16th century onwards.

A good place to start as you search for information about your great-great grandmother would be the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. The staff at this institute has been doing a lot of work with black and African history in Germany as of late and may be able to put you into contact with historians and other scholars who have expertise in this field.

Thanks for visiting Jewels and leaving a comment on this surprisingly popular post. Thank you.

BRE said...

Dear Quartet,

Yes, it is very possible that your great, great, grandmother may have been of African descent and lived in Germany or another Western European country in the mid-nineteenth century. To give you an example there were more than 30,000 Africans living and working in Lisboa (Lisbon) during the 16th century shortly after the Portuguese explorations of the West coast of Africa. England, Italy, and other European countries all had small populations of Africans and mixed race (African-European) people from the 16th century onwards.

A good place to start as you search for information about your great-great grandmother would be the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. The staff at this institute has been doing a lot of work with black and African history in Germany as of late and may be able to put you into contact with historians and other scholars who have expertise in this field.

Thanks for visiting Jewels and leaving a comment on this surprisingly popular post. Thank you.