Book – Breath of Freedom

Out now with Palgrave Macmillan:


By Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke


Breath-of-FreedomBased on an award-winning international research project and photo exhibition, this poignant and beautifully illustrated book examines the experiences of African American GIs in Germany and the unique insights they provide into the civil rights struggle at home and abroad. Thanks in large part to its military occupation of Germany after World War II, America’s unresolved civil rights agenda was exposed to worldwide scrutiny as never before. At the same time, the ambitious U.S. efforts to democratize German society after the defeat of Nazism meant that West Germany encountered American ideas of freedom and democracy to a much larger degree than many other countries. As African American GIs became increasingly politicized, they took on a particular significance for the Civil Rights Movement in light of Germany’s central role in the Cold War. While the effects of the Civil Rights Movement reverberated across the globe, Germany represents a special case that illuminates a remarkable period in American and world history.

$25 / 288 pages / 50 black and white photographs

Palgrave Macmillan (2010) / # ISBN-10: 0230104738 /
# ISBN-13: 978-0230104730

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“A breakthrough in international history, A Breath of Freedom shines a penetrating light on the neglected story of African American troops in Europe. Höhn and Klimke are the first scholars to situate black GIs’ experience in the broad context of the twentieth century’s wars and achievements. At the same time, the impressive scope of this exhaustively researched work never shortchanges the humanity of the individual soldier.“

Brenda Gayle Plummer, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
author of Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960

“This deeply moving book perfectly captures my own experience as a black soldier in the segregated U.S. army during WWII who took part in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald. Höhn and Klimke vividly illustrate the fundamental impact these events had on my own life and on the lives of so many veterans who later became foot soldiers in the black freedom struggle. Our encounters during and after the war in Germany, however, not only spurred our fight for equality and against discrimination wherever it occurred; they also created a long-lasting bond across the Atlantic of an intertwined past and hope for a better future.“

Leon Bass, WWII veteran

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Table of Contents

Preface by Ron E. Armstead, Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust
Introduction (Full Text PDF)
CHAPTER 1:   Closing Ranks: World War I and the Rise of Hitler
CHAPTER 2:   Fighting on Two Fronts: World War II and Civil Rights
CHAPTER 3:   We Will Never Go Back to the Old Way Again:
 African American GIs and the Occupation of Germany
CHAPTER 4:   Setting the Stage for Brown: Desegregating the Army in Germany
CHAPTER 5:   Bringing Civil Rights to East and West:
 Dr. Martin Luther King in Cold War Berlin
CHAPTER 6:   Revolutionary Alliances: The Rise of Black Power
CHAPTER 7:   Heroes of the Other America: East German Solidarity with the African American Freedom Struggle
CHAPTER 8:   A Call for Justice: The Racial Crisis in the Military and the GI Movement


Online Features


The Authors

Maria Höhn teaches German history at Vassar College, and is an established scholar of the American military presence in Germany Her book, GIs and Fräuleins, published in 2002 by the University of North Carolina Press was the first book to address the experiences of black soldiers in Germany. A German translation of her book was published under the title Amis, Cadillacs, und “Negerliebchen”: GIs und deutsche Frauen in den fünfziger Jahren with Verlag Berlin Brandenburg in 2008. Together with Seungsook Moon, she has co-authored and co-edited Over There. Living with the U.S. Military Empire (Duke University Press, 2010), which explores the impact of U.S. military deployments on gender and race relations in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Martin Klimke is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC and the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He is the author of The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany and the United States in the Global Sixties (Princeton University Press, 2010), and co-editor of 1968 in Europe (Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), Changing the World, Changing the Self: Political Protest and Collective Identities in 1960/70s West German and United States (Berghahn Books, 2010), and the publication series Protest, Culture and Society (Berghahn Books, New York/Oxford). Klimke is also the coordinator of the international research network European Protest Movements Since 1945 supported by the European Union and co-director of the research project and digital archive The Nuclear Crisis: Transatlantic Peace Politics, Rearmament, and the Second Cold War. He is currently writing a biography of peace activists Petra Kelly and Randall Forsberg.

Höhn and Klimke are the recipients of the 2009 NAACP Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Awardfor their research on the connection between the military service of African American GIs abroad and the advancement of civil rights in the U.S.


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