Black Biographies in Historical and Present Times
NEW YORK—They fought for democracy in a segregated army and marched as conquerors into a country in ruins. Finding a “breath of freedom” in post-World War II Germany, African American soldiers experienced for the first time what it felt like to be treated as equals—and returned home determined to change their country. This largely unknown chapter in American history is told in Breath of Freedom, a new two-hour documentary narrated by Academy-Award winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Red Tails, Men of Honor) scheduled to premier 8 p.m., Feb. 17 on Smithsonian Channel.
Featuring interviews with former Secretary of State General Colin Powell and Congressman John Lewis, this is the remarkable story of how World War II and its aftermath played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a story told through the powerful recollections of veterans like Charles Evers, brother of slain Civil Rights icon Medgar Evers. From the beginning, black soldiers felt the absurdity of being asked to fight for freedom while being denied it in their own army. READ MORE
Her autobiography is a one-of-a-kind perspective of an educated, empowered, world-traveling daughter of a royal family, which no one wanted to publish until now.
Between 1939 and 1946, Fatima Massaquoi penned one of the earliest known autobiographies by an African woman. But few outside of Liberian circles were aware of it until this week, when Palgrave McMillian published The Autobiography of an African Princess, edited by two historians and the author’s daughter.
The book follows Massaquoi, born the daughter of the King of Gallinas of Southern Sierra Leone in 1904, to Liberia, Nazi Germany and the segregated American South, where she wrote her memoirs while enrolled at Tennessee’s Fisk University.
AMHERST, Mass.—In an effort to recognize a relatively young academic discipline that many in the academy have never heard of before, nearly a hundred students and scholars gathered at Amherst College over the weekend to discuss their research and ideas for how to grow Black German Studies.
This marks the third year that the Black German Heritage & Research Association sponsored the international conference, which highlighted a variety of interdisciplinary topics ranging from Black Germans during the Third Reich to their ongoing presence in German theater.
Like African American, Women and Queer studies, Black German Studies has an admitted social justice focus, says Dr. Sara Lennox, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an early founder of the Black German Studies movement in the U.S. “We’ve made the field legitimate. You can now do this work and get tenure,” says Lennox, who was chiefly responsible for jumpstarting the Black German Studies concentration at UMASS Amherst. “It’s kind of a burgeoning field and movement. The other thing that’s really cool is there is a pretty strong connection between activism and scholarship and a really strong connection with the experimental … Black Germans talking about their stories.”
“Meticulously researched in previously ignored archives and obscure publications, the essays included in this volume range from black figures in medieval art and baroque drama to German translations of 18th- and 19th-century African and African American writers… to the fascinating account of the venture to start cotton plantations in Togo, undertaken by the German Colonial Committee with the help of Booker T. Washington. [They] reveal the many interactions of Africans and African Americans with the German-speaking world, thus offering fresh and suggestive interracial perspectives on German cultural history in broader contexts.” · Werner Sollors, Harvard University
“The organization of the book is exemplary. The introduction presents a very important theoretical construct for this and future investigations of the phenomenon of race in the German-speaking world…the chapters assembled in this anthology are excellent…I have no doubt this volume will quickly become a vital part of the growing body of research on Afro-German interactions.” · Leroy Hopkins, Millersville University
“This is an important collection that takes a large step forward in advancing knowledge about people of the African diaspora in Germany.” · Sara Lennox, University of Massachusetts Amherst