Jewels in the Jungle: Rediscovering the Afrodeutsch

Bill of Jewels in the Jungle is running a fascinating set of articles for Black History Month, focusing on the Afrodeutsche (Afro-German) identity. Bill is an African American who’s lived in Germany for many years – he’s a leading Afrophile blogger, always an interesting source for news and perspective on African issues and one of the most welcome commenters on this blog. Bill is spending the month exploring the history of Black people in Germany with the help of friends who are German historians.

One of the stories Bill and friends have told is the remarkable tale of Dr. Anton Wilhelm Amo, an Akan man who was the first known sub-Saharan Africa man to attend a European university. Dr. Amo became a noted lecturer and empiricst philosopher, teaching at the University of Halle and the University of Jenna. A recent post, subtitled “Amo’s Ghost”, asks an amazing range of questions about the little-known academic:

7. What really caused Amo to give up his professorship at the University of Jena in 1746-47? Was it that he lost his sponsorship from Anton Ulrich due to the duke’s death or was it due to the rising tide of xenophobia, racism, and abuse amongst his fellows and students?…

8. Was Amo the only African black living in Germany in the 1700’s or were there other Africans in royal households who lived a similar lifestyle? Where are the African women and children in this 18th Century German story? …

There are unanswered questions about the Afrodeutsche in the more recent past, including the fate of Afrodeutsche during the Shoah – historians estimate that 10-25,000 Afrodeutsche died at the hands of the Nazis. As a survivor, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, noted, “As the only kid with brown skin I had no place to hide. The Jews had a Star of David on their clothes but my very appearance singled me out.” Doing some very cursory searches at the US Holocaust Museum, I’m having a hard time finding any information – or even acknowledgement – of the persecution of the Afrodeutsch. One description of the museum’s collections mentions that subject areas include, “Nazi persecution of Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war.”

(It looks like a good start for anyone researching this topic would be a 1997 documentary, “Hitler’s Forgotten Victims“, which documents the fate of Afrodeutsch during the war, but also traces German use of sterilization and concentration camps to German South-West Africa, now Namibia.)

Black History Month has become a staple of American school curiculums, to the point where it’s the subject of satire on everyone’s favorite television show, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Senior Black Historian Larry Wilmore suggests we stop celebrating the event, noting: “White people have to pretend to care about Black people. Black people have to pretend to care about history. It’s a lose-lose.”

But the sorts of research Bill and his colleagues are doing isn’t treading familiar ground – it’s bringing forward stories most of us haven’t heard. I’ve got high hopes that Bill and his friends will continue their exploration long beyond the end of this month.

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5 Responses to Jewels in the Jungle: Rediscovering the Afrodeutsch

  1. betsy says:

    Wow, this really is fascinating, and yet another reminder that we (or at least I) often forget to look beyond my own little sphere. For many, I think Black History Month means a look at the history of African-Americans in the U.S. But it shouldn’t be limited that way. Thanks for pointing us to it.

  2. Thank you Ethan for bringing your readers’ attention to this initiative to help raise awareness of the history of blacks and Africans within the context of European history. The response so far has been great and the team members are having a great deal of fun.

    Re: your own research on the fate of blacks in Europe during the Shoah, checkout the second post in our series (Updates on the BHM-Europe Project, Feb. 14th) and scroll down to the additional links and resources at the end of the post. You can also go directly to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) 2002 special feature on this subject at this URL:
    http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/bhistory_02/

    We are attempting to not just focus on the history of black people in Germany or the fate of blacks during the Shoah (WWII Holocaust) but to expose information about how Africans and black Europeans have made many positive and important contributions to European society and development dating back to ancient times (Classical Antiquity era) right up to the present day.

    Again, thank you for your very kind words of praise and encouragement and please stay tuned throughout the month of March 2007.

    P.S. The government of Ghana would be very well advised to include the history of Anton Wilhelm Amo in their 50 Years of Independence celebrations this year, don’t you think? Where is his grave? Lost?

  3. The English-language version of that Feb 28th article by the African-German historian/teacher “Patrick” has been published at Jewels in the Jungle today. Hope you (and your readers) like it. We will continue to power through March 2007 on the subject of blacks and Africans in European history. Lot’s of information over here that hasn’t seen the light of day for centuries (if ever).

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  5. Lot’s of new stuff is up at “Jewels” on the history of black people and Africans in European History. At the moment I am focusing on black Africans in Renaissance Europe with the help of excellent work on the subject by Dr. Kate Lowe and Dr. Tom Earle and several other scholars. Don’t miss it.

    BTW: I think that I found out where our respective ancestors started to have serious misunderstandings with one another. Lisbon in the 15th Century, fighting over status and recognition and bread, as usual.

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