African American Civil Rights and Germany in the 20th Century
Conference at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)
October 01 – 03, 2009
Jointly organized by the German Historical Institute Washington DC and Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Conveners: Maria Höhn (Vassar College) and Martin Klimke (GHI Washington)
The conference brought together scholars of history, literature and cultural studies from Germany, the U.S., and Australia to explore the links between the African-American Civil Rights Movement and Germany throughout the twentieth century. The pre-conference program started on Wednesday afternoon with a screening of the film The Negro Soldier from 1944, directed by Stuart Heisler, U.S. War Department, and introduced by Mia Mask. Subsequently, Leon Bass, a World War II veteran, gave a lecture, “Fighting in the Jim Crow Army: A Black Sergeant Remembers Buchenwald.” As a nineteen-year-old, Bass served in the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, a segregated unit of the U.S. Army, and was among the soldiers who liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bass gave a moving recollection of his own struggles with racism in the U.S. military during his training in the South, and of putting his life on the line for a country that did not deem him “good enough.” He recounted how seeing the atrocities committed at Buchenwald led him to become an agent for social change upon his return to the U.S.
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