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.


Convergence Class with Rebecca Brückmann at Freie Universität

By Ximena Buller

Rebecca and HeidiAfter our educational and informative Wedding Tour around the Afrikanisches Viertel (African Quarter), the Femgeniuses, as the family we are, headed to have a nice lunch together and ended up at a Turkish restaurant that our newest friend Josy Apraku recommended. Once there, we could not be more puzzled by the menu, which was written in Turkish and German. Luckily Beril, one of our Femgeniuses, is Turkish and was able to explain each and every plate in detail and gave great suggestions on the delicious meals. Although we were very satisfied after our meal, we were still craving some of the refreshing (usually home-made) ice cream that can be found in almost every corner during summer in Berlin. My personal goal is to eat at least one scoop every day! Subsequent to our well-deserved treat, we were on our way to the John F. Kennedy Institute at Freie Universität where we had a convergence class with Professor Rebecca Brückmann’s students in her course entitled “Can We Do It?: The 20th Century Women’s Movement in the U.S.”

XimenaWe started off by introducing ourselves and giving our reasons for taking a Feminist and Gender class. Then, we discussed women’s movements in the U.S. and Germany, as well as the differences between the experiences of African American and Afro-German women. We also watched the trailer for Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, 1984-1992. The FemGeniuses had fortunately already watched the whole movie last week, so we were able to contribute our comments and opinions about the documentary. We discussed how Audre Lorde was so essential for recognition and development of the concept “Afro-German,” as well as the development of an Afro-German community, especially amongst Black German women. We spoke about how there had previously been a huge lack of recognition for the Afro-German community. This was true even among Black Germans, because they had lived primarily in white communities. Back in the day, the stories of Black women were invisible and not considered worthy to be discussed. This was even more acute without contemporary technology, such as Google and social media. Even today, Black women’s voices are not widely heard and most white people in Germany are surprised when they learn that many of these women were born and raised in Germany. This is when our professor Heidi mentioned the importance and the need of teaching these types of courses because they create awareness and provide knowledge on issues of racism and sexism throughout the world.

photo 2Later, we discussed questions within smaller groups with Rebecca’s students. My group, for instance, focused on how the work we have studied, including Audre Lorde, has helped us to better understand the experiences of Black women. Rebecca’s students read bell hooksAin’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, a text we haven’t read in our class, so it was interesting to merge the thoughts and works of all the people we were studying and how they present their views on Black women and feminism. Other questions asked students to discuss intersectionality, the importance of education about racism, criticism of the stereotypes portrayed in media, and how labels are effective (such as “Afro-German”) and also problematic (such as the “n” word).

photo 3We came to the conclusion that the issues spoken about and discussed during this session are essential for everybody to discuss and that schools need to start teaching them much earlier than college. This was a great experience, because it allowed for discussions with other students outside our Femgeniuses group, and it was very interesting to hear what they had to say.


XimenaXimena an international student at Colorado College. She is from Peru, and will be a sophomore this coming year. She is currently undeclared, but debating between majoring in Anthropology or Sociology. She is very excited to be in Berlin taking a course with Heidi and through CC, because it has so far allowed for a unique learning experience.