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“I am happy here in Germany…I got tired of being a second class citizen. I feel like a man now, and people treat me like a man –which is more than I can say about the place where I was born.”
A black GI on his decision to stay in Germany after his tour of duty, from Negro Digest (March 1949)
New Article by
Film “The West Point -
Vassar College Initiative“
A Breath of Freedom
By Maria Höhn &
Palgrave Macmillan October 2010
Angela Davis (b. 1944) is an American philosopher and political activist. Born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, to African American middle-class parents, Davis established an especially close personal and intellectual association with Germany early on. This began when she became interested in German philosophy through her studies with Herbert Marcuse at Brandeis University.
Then, from 1965–1967, she studied at the University of Frankfurt with key thinkers of the Frankfurt School and became acquainted with members of the German Socialist Student League (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, SDS), participating in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. When she continued her studies in California, she joined the civil rights organization Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and eventually the American Communist Party (CPUSA), soon advancing as a leading intellectual representative of black power after being appointed to an assistant professorship at UCLA.
Accused of being an accomplice in a murder case in 1970, she was arrested, jailed for over a year, and finally acquitted in 1972. Her imprisonment elicited expressions of support throughout the world and particularly in both East and West Germany.
In West Germany, Davis’s imprisonment prompted a strong solidarity movement. Several groups like the Black Panther Solidarity Committee in Frankfurt and the Angela Davis Solidarity Committee distributed information on her case and organized dozens of rallies and support campaigns, which not only by students but a broad, sympathetic public carried forth. On June 3–4, 1972, for example, the Angela Davis Solidarity Committee organized a congress “Am Beispiel Angela Davis” [The Example of Angela Davis], which drew more than 10,000 people for the opening rally at the Frankfurt Opernplatz.
In East Germany, the regime led a nationwide push to mobilize solidarity for Angela Davis. Portraying her as the heroine of the “other America,” it produced a whole host of publications, songs, and radio plays about Davis available to the population and organized support rallies throughout the country. These campaigns swept across East German society: citizens signed petitions on Davis’s behalf, collected “solidarity donations” for “Free Angela Davis” committees in the U.S., and children painted “sunflowers for Angela Davis” in school.
Only a few months after her acquittal on June 4, 1972, Angela Davis went on a tour through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to express her gratitude for the international solidarity campaign this part of the world had waged on her behalf. In East Germany, her reception was marked by mass rallies with thousands of people, by meetings with government officials, as well as by tours through the country’s universities and industrial centers.
Davis also received an honorary degree from the Karl Marx University of Leipzig, was granted honorary citizenship in the city of Magdeburg, and met with Erich Honecker, the newly appointed East German communist party Leader. Davis’s perfectly orchestrated visit in 1972 turned her into a communist superstar in the GDR.
She returned to East Berlin in the summer of 1973 as the head of the American delegation for the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students where her appearance was used even more extensively for propaganda purposes than her previous visit had been. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Davis remained a frequent guest of honor in East Germany. On these visits and outside the country, she defended the GDR’s right to exist and advocated for its international recognition.
“A Million Roses for Angela Davis”
For a short bibliography on the origins of campaign, see here.
- Davis, Angela Yvonne: If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (New York, Third Press, 1971).
- Davis, Angela Yvonne, and Joy James: The Angela Y. Davis Reader (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006).
- “East Germany: St. Angela,” Time, April 3, 1972, 46.
- Höhn, Maria and Martin Klimke: A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), chapter 6, 7.
- Lehmann, Werner: Schwarze Rose aus Alabama (Berlin: Neues Leben, 1972).
- Steiniger, Klaus: Free Angela Davis. Hero of the Other America (Berlin: National Council of the National Front of the GDR, 1972).