Capturing aspects of the black American experience
While the civil rights movement didn’t achieve dramatic results in changing perceptions and treatment for all citizens in the United States until the 1960s, black service members stationed in Germany in the years after World War II found a much more open and equal society.
Wiesbaden military community members had a chance to take a photographic look at this time in German and U.S. history during a special exhibition — “Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs and Germany” — at the Tony Bass Fitness Center during Black History Month in February.
“Black American service members serving in Germany in the ‘40s through the ‘60s experienced a lot more freedoms than in some places in the United States,” said Sgt. 1st Class Edwin Lauderback, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Equal Opportunity adviser. “This exhibit walks you through the different movements the African-Americans went through in Germany in those years.
“We think about the civil rights struggle in America, but we forget about the African-American GIs serving in Germany and their impact on the civil rights struggle,” Lauderback said, explaining that the images capture the different experiences and social protests that were occurring in Germany at the time.
The exhibit, assembled by Maria Hühn and Martin Klinke from the Heidelberg Center for American Studies with support from Vassar College and the U.S. Archives, featured mostly black-and-white photographs of influential black American visitors to Germany, U.S. Soldiers going about their lives in Germany and events capturing the times. The special exhibit also featured a short film.
“Because of the open-mindedness of the Germans, American GIs felt a breath of fresh air,” said Ernestine Hatley, outgoing chief of the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden’s Military Personnel Division and guest speaker at the garrison’s Black History Month Observance Feb. 24.
Saying that while things have definitely improved as regards overt racism in American society, all Americans must still take a stand to end covert racism. “A lot of times people will not step forward to stop a racist act,” Hatley said. “You’ve got to either fix the problem or get out of the way and let someone step in to fix the problem. It all starts with you and teaching your children the right thing to do.
“Right now we don’t have a black-and-white country, we have a melting pot,” said Hatley, stressing that it’s time for all Americans to get into the habit of not thinking of people as black or white, but simply as people.
During Black History Month local schools also participated in various events aimed at celebrating America’s diversity. An event at Wiesbaden Middle School featured student performers singing, dancing and acting while presenting different aspects of the African-American experience. Students, parents and staff were treated to portrayals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Joseph Moseley, Marcus Garvey by Uche Wozu, Thurgood Marshall by Caleb Brown and others.