Thursday, February 01, 2007

Black History Month in Europe?? An introduction to the Invisible Ones.

Today in the United States of America and in Canada millions of people will begin celebrating Black History Month, a month-long series of events dedicated to the rich history, culture, and contributions to society by citizens of color. A similar celebration and sharing of knowledge about the history of Africans and other people of color is not practiced in most European countries with the exception of the U.K. where Black History Month is celebrated annually during the month of October. The U.K. in 2005 had a fantastic yearlong celebration of African culture, history, and the arts titled Africa '05.

Millions and millions of tourists and business travelers and academics and students visit Germany and western Europe every year, but one almost never learns anything about the contributions black people have made to the early societies of Europe except for the “let’s not-talk-about-that subject of slavery” or the European colonization of Africa in the late 1800’s. These two dark periods in the history of mankind does not even begin to shed light on the true and complete story of Africans in Europe.

Over the past weeks leading up to this year’s Black History Month there have been intense and interesting conversations with some of my German friends about the contributions made to German society down through the ages by people of African descent. In addition my friend and fellow blog author over in Berlin, Jörg Wolf of the Atlantic Review, and I have been exchanging email messages about recent activities of high-profile German politicians, national leaders, and media personalities re: Africa and African-American issues and history in Germany.

So this is what’s up.

Despite my burning desire to share with my readers the story of my own family’s struggles and triumphs on the Western frontier of colonial America (ca. 1760-1790 in the territories that would become Illinois and Missouri… Indian Country) and forfeiting the opportunity to share with my readers all of those wonderful links I’ve collected to online resources about Black History Month and African American History and stuff, I (we) plan to do the following for the month of February 2007:

1. Jörg, a German Fulbright scholar alumni and prolific blogger on German-American relations and international affairs, will compose and post something about African-German history and/or about German-African heritage at his blog. I will cross-post Jörg’s piece here at Jewels in the Jungle.

2. Two very good German friends who just happen to be African-German, one a student of American Studies and the other a recent university graduate and teacher of European history will contribute articles about African-German history and/or their experiences as African-Germans growing up in Germany today.

3. I will compose a whole series of posts this month that highlight the rich history of Africans and African-Americans in Germany and in Europe. These posts will be based upon the work from some excellent historians and academics and writers that you have probably never heard of. It is a subject that I personally know little about but I know more about the subject than most people. Ignorance should never be a barrier to seeking new knowledge and sharing it with others.

4. We might, we just might get assistance from some serious historians and other academics working in the field of African-German Studies here in Germany and in the United States to help us out. That of course is optional. These people do have a reputation to worry about you know.

In the meantime below is an excerpt from the research and writings of Hyde Flippo at on Black History and Germany. I discovered today to my great surprise that Mr. Flippo, a retired teacher of German language, history, and literature in the U.S., was thinking the very same thing as we were here on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s a small world after all.

Source: – education - German language
Black History Month in the U.S., the U.K.__ and Germany? - 02/01/07

Black History Month in the U.S., the U.K. — and Germany?

In the United States February is Black History Month, but in the United Kingdom that observance falls in October. Although Germany has no such month, there are nevertheless Germans of African descent. Of the 82 million people living in Germany an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 have some form of African heritage. Germany's blacks fall into several historical and ancestral categories. A few Afrodeutsche are well known as writers, TV personalities, sports figures, and actors in Germany. One of the very first black persons in Germany was Anton Wilhelm Amo from Ghana in the 18th century. Another German black man grew up in Nazi Germany and later became the managing editor of Ebony magazine in the U.S.

Learn more in Black History and Germany.

Excerpt from Black History and Germany – an excellent multi-part overview article

Afrodeutsche - Black Germans

Black Germans? Non-Germans may be understandably surprised to learn that there are Afro-Germans (Afrodeutsche), but many Germans themselves are unaware of the concept of a German who is also black (ein Schwarzer). While compared to other minorities, such as the 2 million Turks living in Germany, blacks are definitely a tiny minority among Germany's 82 million people. While EU countries do not keep track of ethnicity, there are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Blacks living in Germany today.

Early History

The history of black people in Germany goes back much further than most people think. One of the first Africans known to have lived in Germany was Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-1759). Born in what is today's Ghana, Amo came under the protection of the Duke (Herzog) of Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and grew up in the duke's castle.

He was both the first African known to attend a German university (Halle) and the first to obtain a doctorate degree (in 1729). As a professor, under his preferred name of Antonius Guilelmus Amo Afer, he taught at two German universities and published several scholarly works, including a Latin treatise entitled De Arte Sobrie et Accurate Philosophandi (1736, "On the Art of Philosophizing Soberly and Accurately"). Knowing the level of his achievements, it is all the more surprising to learn that Amo returned to Africa in 1747. Most accounts claim the reason for his return to his native Africa was the racial discrimination he encountered in Germany. Then as now, Africans in Europe were seen as something exotic and foreign.

Some historians claim that the first sizeable influx of Africans to Germany came from Germany's African colonies in the 19th century. Some Afro-Germans living in Germany today can claim ancestry going back five generations to that time. Yet Prussia's colonial adventures in Africa were quite limited and brief (1890-1918), far more modest than the British, the Dutch, the French, or other European powers, so there could not have been any great numbers. But Prussia's South West Africa colony was the site of the first mass genocide committed by Germans in the 20th century. In 1904 German colonial troops countered a revolt with the massacre of three-quarters of the Herero population in what is now Namibia. It took Germany a full century to issue a formal apology to the Herero (in 2004) for that atrocity, which was provoked by a German "extermination order" (Vernichtungsbefehl). But Germany still refuses to pay any compensation to the Herero survivors, although it does provide foreign aid to Namibia. (See Germany Urges Herero to Drop Lawsuit from

Afro-Germans Prior to World War II

After World War I, more blacks, mostly French Senegalese soldiers or their offspring, ended up in the Rhineland region and other parts of Germany. Estimates vary, but by the 1920s there were about 10,000 to 25,000 Afrodeutsche in Deutschland, most of them in Berlin or other metropolitan areas. Until the Nazis came to power, black musicians and other entertainers were a popular element of the nightlife scene in Berlin and other large cities. Jazz, later denigrated as Negermusik ("Negro music") by the Nazis, was made popular in Germany and Europe by black musicians, many from the U.S., who found life in Europe more liberating than that back home. Josephine Baker in France is one prominent example. Both the American writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. du Bois and the suffragist Mary Church Terrell studied at the university in Berlin. They later wrote that they experienced far less discrimination in Germany than they had in the U.S.

It is interesting to note that in the 1920s and 1930s, and even during Nazi times, Afrodeutsche appeared as extras in German movies portraying Africans, notably in the German color spectacle Baron von Münchhausen (1943), produced by the Ufa studio. (Blacks did not always volunteer to be extras; some were recruited from Nazi POW camps. More below.) To this day, it is in the field of entertainment, particularly on German television, where German blacks are most visible. Cherno Jobatey, a black man born in Berlin in 1965, has been a co-host of the popular morning show (ZDF-Morgenmagazin) on Germany's public ZDF TV network since 1992. Other Afro-Germans can be seen hosting music video shows on VIVA and Germany's MTV.

NEXT > The Black Holocaust and WWII

Note: some links to external online resources have been added to the original article above for clarity and further information.

Additional online resources and related articles:

Black History Month – U.S.A.
Black History Month - Canada
Black History Month – U.K.

History News Network @ George Mason University
Black History (U.S.) articles archive (A&E Television Network)
Celebrating Our Black History (multimedia and video)

PBS African American Lives (a fascinating 4-part TV series)
African American Lives home
African American Lives introduction
African American Lives about the filmmakers

Afro-Germans (a category listing, very limited)

Pegasos (Finland)
Bio on Anton Wilhelm Amo

State University of Buffalo (New York) – Department of Mathematics
Brief article about Anton-Wilhelm Amo

Atlantic Review by Jörg Wolf & Crew
Martin Luther King Day – 01/15/07

Booker Rising
Black History - Time to Reflect... by Star Parker - 02/05/07
Carribean: From Abolition to Emancipation - 02/01/07
Find Your Ancestors - 02/01/07

U.K. Guardian Unlimited – Comment is Free blog
Reading without prejudice by Cameroon Duodo – 03/20/06

University of Mainz (Germany) – Johannes Guttenberg University
Black European Studies Project (BEST)
Project director and staff info

University of Massachusetts (U.S.A.) – Amherst campus
Remapping Black Germany:
new perspectives on Afro-German history, politics, and culture

UCLA – Wendy Belcher
Medieval and Early Modern African Literature

Stanford University - SULAIR – Africa South of the Sahara
African Diaspora in Europe

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BRE said...

My apologies to readers who stopped by yesterday. It seems that the Blogger (Google) technical team back in the States was having a very, very bad day. Everything seems to be O.K. now with webpage loads and links to archived posts.

Benin said...


Hi, what an educational post. I love those 4 things that you and Jorg are doing.

If it were not for your post, I would not have known about the Afrodeutsche. Though, I was aware of what your post mentioned, in reference to W E B Dubois feeling more welcomed in Germany than in the US.

One day, I will defeinitly have to visit. In the meantime I shall enjoy learning more about Anton Wilhelm Amo.

BRE said...

Thank you Benin. That is why Jörg, I and others are focusing on this subject. There are over 82 million people living in Germany today and 79,999,000 (+/- 100 or so) do not know squat about "Amo" or any other prominent black African figure in German history (other than a handful of nightclub and stage entertainers and the black National League soccer stars and other sports figures who came to prominence in the latter half of the 20th century. The much latter half out toward the tail of the millennium.

Go over to Wikipedia for example and checkout the History of Germany or the Germany Portal. Nichts. Nada. Practically nothing. What happened to all of these people of color from Africa who lived in or visited this part of Europe for the past X hundred years?

Therefore, I hope that our readers DO learn something about the history of blacks in Medieval Germany & the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Rennaissance and Reformation period, the Early Modern period with the formation of the German Confederation and the Hanseatic League of Free States, Imperial Germany, the German Empire (Reich) and WWI, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich and the WWII years, and the post-WWII years of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany before the 1989 implosion).

There may not be very much there in terms of research and early records and art and literature but what IS there has to be very interesting indeed. As far as I know it is an untold story for German schoolchildren and the general public here, and that is a real pity.

No, that is eine Schande (a shame)!

Nappy said...

I like the idea of Black History Month in Europe.It's nice to celebrate that of other cultures. It brings us together. That's all I have to say. Thanks for posting!

Unknown said...

This is an absolutely fascinating project! February is almost over and I can't believe I missed this. I must apologize since I stopped reading your blog regularly after blogspot/blogger was blocked in China (then unblocked, then blocked again, then unblocked).
Anyway, I think it's a great idea and something I hope you do again next year. With the amazing influence of the internet and the ease of access to information, what's to stop like-minded people from starting their own virtual "Black History Month in Europe" whether or not such a concept is officially recognized?

Next year, you should definitely make a badge for people to put on their blogs, then perhaps using your own network, GV, etc. organize and promote the idea. I imagine that African diaspora bloggers living all over Europe from Portugal to Russia would want to participate, using what you've done in Germany as a starting point.

Hell, forget next year. (After all, it doesn't necessarily have to cooincide with America and Canada's Black History month.) Why not do something this Spring, or next October (to coincide with the UK)?

You could even set up a filter blog that would point to all of the individual bloggers participating in the project. I'm sure some of GV's current team of Portuguese/Spanish/French/Russian-speaking editors & authors would be interested in helping out.

If this interests you, I would definitely be interested in helping out in any way I can. I think this idea, with enough planning, could also gain MSM attention.

What do you think?

(Post here, or feel free to email me)

BRE said...

Thank you for your kind words Jen, you're gonna make the "old man" blush with all of your praise and excitement. We, the Black History Month-Europe team have already decided to keep this effort going throughout the month of March 2007, so stay tuned as there is much more to come.

I've already alerted Ethan over at GVO so he is aware of the project and following it as well. In regards to your suggestion about including other blog authors and the Global Voices community, certainly everyone is welcome to join in and it would be fascinating (and challenging) to see inputs from all over the world in many different languages concerning this important subject.

I'll get in touch with you directly to discuss your ideas further AFTER I've finished my work for this particular phase of the project. All the best to you over in Beijing and hoping that all is well with you and that there is plenty of history yet to be re-discovered in China.

Anonymous said...

Hi BRE :)
What an ambitious and exciting project ! I only read the first post about black history but this is so interesting. As I had no intention of watching crap TV programs tonight, I think I'll spend the evening reading all of your articles.
Keep up the good work, BRE !

Anonymous said...

Definately needed, and my only question is "What's taking us so long to do this?" I've seen Africans and African Diasporans in every single country in Europe I've been too -- including Bulgaria. For an introduction to the presence of African American diasporans in Sweden, check out Diasporoans in Sweden.

Black Women in Europe said...

HI Bill, thanks for the comment on my blog. I posted this about you today:

I also added you to my blogroll. SO glad to have found you.

Unknown said...

There is a new interactive site that is trying to change the view of black history as a single month event, regardless of the country -- it's ( It takes a different approach from most sites I've seen. In particular, it is open (any person can submit information about black history in any country). Here's a snippet of the about us page ( from the site:
" can be best described as a community driven, interactive online periodical about the black experience. Each day, highlights black icons, events, and more that have shaped the WORLD on that day in history. The site is supported by a growing community and is completely free. Join as a member to post original entries on your favorite topics, edit existing entries, and even vote in polls.

We are certain that you will find the site to be both engaging and aesthetically pleasing. Help the community grow by linking back to the site ( ) and spreading the word among your colleagues and friends.

- Team"

Victory-a X said...

Thanks for bringing attention to the matter in your circles, but as one of the people talked about (a Black German) I have to fill you in on something you have seemed to miss: There is a Black History Month celebration in Germany, at least in some big cities. We had a great and rich program in Hamburg for the tenth time this year and there used to be one on Berlin for years as well.
Anyway, I would be excited to hear whether your research group comes across something new (as an academic working on the African diaspora in Germany and also with BEST I'm certainly aware of Amo's biography) - that would be really exciting!

nero said...

its a great idea!!!This is the first time iv heard of Afrodeutsche.....and this time lets make Black History month a moment to explore the opportunities of the future and not so much a time to relive the pains of the past

Anonymous said...

thanks for writing on the subject it is sometimes difficult to retrace the heritage and contributions of the African diaspora. i appreciate your enlightenment on the subject.