A colonialist complains about black musicians in the Prussian army (1909)

In the midst of conducting a lengthy report on military finances, the conservative Reichstag deputy Eduard von Liebert discovered something unsettling in the Prussian army: black musicians. He considered this matter important enough to bring before his colleagues. In his report (excerpted below) he decried an apparent absence of race pride, arguing that the historical use of black musicians was no longer acceptable.

Liebert’s comments are unsurprising given his background. He had made his name, quite literally, upholding white supremacy in the German colonies: he was raised to the nobility for his service as a military commander and governor in East Africa. His term as governor (1897-1901) was marked by profound resistance and harsh repression, which ultimately led to his recall. Upon returning to Germany he became a leading member of the Pan-German League, a radical nationalist association known for its antisemitism and racism, and the German Colonial Association, the leading colonialist pressure group.

Although perhaps unsurprising in this context, Liebert’s commentary and the general endorsement it seems to have received from his colleagues are noteworthy. They suggest the extent to which a colonialist “scientific” racism had supplanted earlier models of thinking about racial difference. As the comparisons with the United States and Great Britain suggest, this was taking place through conversations that crossed the Atlantic, informed by the segregationist regimes being constructed in the US South and in African colonies. 


I would like to touch on a third matter that also concerns music. It has come to my attention –I wish that it weren’t so — that a Prussian cavalry regiment has a Negro as a timpanist and a Prussian infantry regiment has a Negro — whether as a choirmaster or drum major, I don’t know.

(Hear! Hear!)

If this is true, I would consider it an outrage. Because the commander in question surely must have no racial feeling nor racial pride at all.

(Quite right!)

I was pleased when recently the deputy Dr. Goller introduced the race question, which normally we have to tiptoe around. I would actually like to know if anyone could expect an Englishman or an American to serve under a colored — it just doesn’t happen! That would lead to rebellion, to mutiny. It would surely upset our German soldiers.

(Quite right!)

The Great Elector and the first Prussian King kept such people as attendants, as minions in a pretty uniform. That was 200 years ago, but now the times are dramatically different.

We know too well the good side, but also the dark side of the Ethiopian race and must not place them over, or even alongside, our own soldiers.

SourceVerhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstags (1907/1909), Bd. 235, 225. Sitzung (16 March 1909), 7511. Translated by Jeff Bowersox.



Etwas Drittes, was auch die Musik betrifft, möchte ich berühren. Es ist mir zu Ohren gekommen — ich wünschte, es wäre nicht wahr –, daß ein preußisches Kavallerieregiment einen Neger als Pauker und ein preußisches Infanterieregiment einen Neger — ich weiß nicht, ob als Kapellmeister oder als Tambourmajor hat.

(Hört! hört!)

Wenn das wahr ist, so würde ich das für eine Ungeheuerlichkeit halten. Denn die betreffenden Kommandeure müßten gar kein Rassegefühl und gar keinen Rassestolz haben.

(Sehr richtig!)

Ich habe mich gefreut, daß neulich der Herr Abgeordnete Dr. Goller die Rassenfrage anschnitt, um die man sonst scheu herumgegangen ist. Ich möchte mal sehen, wenn man einen Engländer oder Amerikaner zumuten würde, unter einem Farbigen zu dienen — das gibt’s gar nicht! Das würde zu Rebellion, zur Meuterei führen. Das muß doch unsere deutschen Soldaten verstimmen.

(Sehr richtig!)

Der Große Kurfürst und der erste Preußenkönig haben sich ja solche Leute gehalten als Trabanten, als Lakaien in schöner Uniform. Das war vor 200 Jahren; aber jetzt sind die Zeiten doch erheblich andere geworden.

Wir kennen zu gut die guten Seiten, aber auch die Schattenseiten der äthiopischen Rasse und dürfen sie nicht über, auch nicht neben unsere eigenen Soldaten stellen.


SourceVerhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstags (1907/1909), Bd. 235, 225. Sitzung (16 March 1909), 7511.

A colonialist complains about black musicians in the Prussian army (1909) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.

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