Freedom Summer, Selma, & Federal Civil Rights Legislation: Black History in Berlin

By Jesse Crane

JFK IVAs we filed into the classroom at the John F. Kennedy Institute, we chose our seats, and for the first time in a while, it felt like we were starting the beginning of a new block at CC. Soon, the JFK students came, and our convergence class began. The professor, Rebecca Brückmann, sat at the front of the classroom with Heidi and introduced her class, “The African American Civil Rights Movement,” telling us that today’s class would be focused on Freedom Summer, Selma, and federal Civil Rights legislation.

JFK INext, we watched a clip from Eyes on the Prize that focused on Medgar Evers in order to better understand the social climate in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. We first discussed how Mississippi was referred to as a “closed society” that was not open to the reformed racial laws in the United States. As a result, we better understood Mississippi as a state where you could feel the racial tension and violence “all in the air.” Subsequently, we discussed the Freedom Summer in 1964. Relying on various articles Professor Brückmann’s students discussed various aspects of the Freedom Summer, from its origins to outcomes, such as Bob Moses, SNCC, voting rights, and volunteers. Reminiscent of Maisha Eggers’ description of “moving outward” in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” activists during Freedom Summer intended to “enter spaces of political articulation” in order to demand their rights.

JFK VAlong these lines, one of the things that stood out to me was our discussion about Fannie Lou Hamer. Popular Civil Rights narratives in the United States often exclude women. So, it was great to see that Fannie Lou Hamer was worthy of a class discussion. Hamer, an African American woman born on a plantation in a rural town in Mississippi was one of the leading women of the Civil Rights movement. At that point, Lyric Jackson spoke about Fannie’s struggle in taking fellow African Americans to register to vote in Mississippi, being attacked in prison, and speaking on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. After this, Professor Brückmann turned to a video of Hamer speaking as a representative for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Before she began her speech, she stated her home address in order to show her lack of fear of the white attackers that she may face (and had already faced). This clip showed the utter disrespect of Fannie Lou Hamer and disregard for her words as a white male reporter cut her off and completely interrupted her speech. I really appreciated that the class took as much time as we did to talk about Hamer, as the erasure of HerStory is all too present in much of American History education.

JFK IIIWhen we began to talk about the expansion of voting rights in Alabama, specifically in Selma, Professor Brückmann gave us a warning that the clip that we would watch might be triggering. The clip specifically looked at what happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, infamously known as “Bloody Sunday.” The march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery was for voting rights, but was also in response to the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson during a peaceful march by a police officer. This reminded me of the killing of Benno Ohnesorg in Berlin in 1967. According to Michael A. Schmidtke in “Cultural Revolution of Culture Shock? Student Radicalism and 1968 in Germany,” when Ohnesorg was shot, there began an “uproar in the universities,” as well as countless marches and protests. In the United States, however, it seemed nothing would make people in power to listen. As the protestors came upon the Edmund Pettus Bridge, there were police officers waiting for them in gas masks, demanding that they retreat. Without giving the marchers any time to move, the police officers brutally attacked them with tear gas and police batons. Both protests shed light on the culture of violence of the police, but in Selma, there was no mercy. This violence in America continued, and still continues today throughout the country. Neither Germany nor America has created a safe environment for their citizens, especially their Black citizens. How many deaths do we need until this brutality is finally stopped? Germany and the United States must realize that racial violence is still prominent, and continues to remain “all in the air.”

JFK IITo conclude our class, we began small group discussions (mixed with FemGeniuses and Professor Brückmann’s students) about the aspects of transnational Black civil and human rights struggles. As a class, we discussed “half-assed” activism, state-sanctioned violence, and the illusion that “we’ve come so far.” All of the transnational consistencies reminded me of ’s “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap.” Ickstadt highlights how Turkish Germans find strength and comfort in the paralleled struggles that they see between American hip-hop and the Turkish-German experience. They call upon Black protest in the United States to inform their own forms of protest. If we no longer live in a racist society, how do these struggles in both the United States and Germany parallel so clearly? Without racism, we wouldn’t need an outlet to express the feelings of oneself as the “other” within one’s society. This illusion that “we’ve come so far” must be eradicated, because we obviously have not come nearly far enough. Until those in power open their eyes to the real racism seen every day in the lives of people in both the United States and Germany, we will never be able to stop racism. By placing blame or talking about how bad racism is in a different country, we gain nothing. After looking outward towards Germany, we were also able to gain insight about how we can look further inward to truly understand how truly prevalent racism in our everyday lives.

JesseJesse Crane is a pending Colorado College graduate from Bethesda, MD. Jesse graduated in May, but as a transfer student, she was required to do one more credit in order to fulfill her Sociology degree requirements. She saw Berlin as the perfect opportunity to take an amazing final college course and study abroad. Like many CC students, Jesse loves being outdoors—whether it may be skiing, hiking, or taking her dog for a walk. On the weekends, she spends her time practicing yoga and cuddling with her dog Lily. While Jesse loves things like reading, chai tea, and playing cards, waking up early and jogging are things that you will probably not see Jesse doing often. Jesse is grateful and excited to have the opportunity to take one final class abroad at Colorado College and can’t wait to share her experiences with everyone.

6 thoughts on “Freedom Summer, Selma, & Federal Civil Rights Legislation: Black History in Berlin

  1. i have enjoyed from my experiences at the Kennedy School which is one point of convergence; another speaking as a senior American of Native, Asian and African descent appreciate the acknowledgement of Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman of tremendous character and commitment.
    i can never be dispassionate about the journey which i agree is definitely not over but the national and international leadership equivalent to a Martin Luther King Junior is also absent. A charismatic piercing presence and intellect to express the need for the growth of human consciousness and conscience must be birthed and not murdered.

    • Delia, thanks for reading and commenting! I think we should be careful about looking for another hero (one of the things we spoke about in class), as heroes become icons that we won’t allow to have flaws. This is one of the reasons we have misrepresentations of history, especially those that erase some of us from the narratives.

      • no, no, no, the hero is not the source of the misrepresentation; it is the chronicler who misreports and misrepresents… i still revere Martin Luther King Junior who visited the park across from my home in Los Angeles. i could care less that the paunchy J Edgar Hoover was denigrating and maligning him.
        King still epitomized to me the dream,.. the hope the aspiration for BETTER
        a fruition of which we see in many ways in the present.
        Would i think less of our president in fifty years because lesser people seek to diminish him as they do now???
        thank you to you and your students for sharing a contemporary journey and heightened consciousness; i find it all stimulating !!!

        • Oh, no, you misunderstand. I didn’t argue that the “hero” is the source of misrepresentation. Although, many people argue that about MLK and other heroes did actually perpetuate this in some ways. But it’s bedtime for me, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

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