|The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany: Digital Archive, Oral History Collection and Research Project|
|Until recently, the story of the African American civil rights movement has been told largely within the context of American history. Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have scholars shown how U.S. foreign policy concerns and the competition with the Soviet Union forced policy makers in Washington to support the civil rights agenda. What receives almost no attention in this Cold War interpretation, however, is America’s involvement in Europe, and the role that the expansion of the American military base system and the encounter with Germans after WWII played in the unfolding drama of the civil rights struggle. Yet, by bringing a segregated Jim Crow army to military bases outside the physical boundaries of the United States, America literally transposed its racial conflict and its actors onto foreign soil.
Between 1945 and the end of the Cold War, some 15-20 million American soldiers, families and civilian employees lived in Germany. Between 2-3 million of those Americans were African American. Once the civil rights movement gained momentum in the late 1950s, black GIs deployed overseas became crucial actors in the struggle. By 1960, sit-ins to integrate lunch counters were taking place not only in Greensboro, NC, but also in establishments on and around U.S. military bases in Germany, where African American GIs had been able to establish contacts and often friendships with Germans. Beginning in the early 1960s, black GIs started to collaborate with German student activists in major urban areas like Frankfurt and Berlin, but also in communities like Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern, to support demands for civil rights in the U.S. After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Berlin in 1964, the rise of the Black Power movement, and Angela Davis Solidarity Campaigns in the early 1970s in both East and West Germany, African American GIs intensified their collaboration with German student activists to fight racism both in the U.S. military and in German communities.
Our digital archive that is currently being developed at www.aacvr-germany.org has three main goals: First, it will gather and preserve materials on an important, but little known chapter of American and African American history as well as transatlantic relations after the Second World War. Second, it will make these materials available online and free of charge to scholars and teachers in the humanities, using innovative XML-technology that provides both sustainability and easy access from various platforms. Third, it will foster the growth of a community of scholars, teachers, and students who are engaged in teaching and learning about the African American civil rights movement and its reverberations outside the U.S.
By illustrating the untold story of African American GIs and the transnational implications of the African American Civil Rights movement, the project hopes to advance a more nuanced and sophisticated sense of how America’s struggle for democracy reverberated across the globe.|