Dark livelihoods (1902)

This article from a popular illustrated newspaper gives us insight into how some black residents of Berlin were making a living, and it also tells us something about the sort of cosmopolitanism associated with Berlin. As this article suggests, many wanted to believe that Berlin and European cities more generally were free of the sorts of violent prejudice that afflicted the United States. Thus the article mentions that the men profiled here are making a respectable living and have even married white women, which is taboo in America. The article implicitly praises these respectable men for confounding stereotypes, but it makes no mention of the struggles that such men as these–or women at all!–faced in Germany.

Jeff Bowersox 


“Dark Livelihoods. On the Professional Lives of Berlin Negroes”

Hardly forty years have passed since the American Civil War made Blacks into free men and American citizens. At that time he could neither read nor write, knew only his master, to whom he belonged body and soul. Then came the Emancipation Proclamation that made Abraham Lincoln’s name immortal and — the Negro was suddenly a free man.

James Allen

It is amazing wow quickly the race has lifted itself up since then. It can show off senators and pastors, lawyers and millionaires. However, in America this fact is all the more noteworthy given that even the citizens of the United States seem unable to overlook the origins of their Black compatriots

Joseph Byll

The unfriendly and unjust treatment of Blacks in America is the main reason why the number of Black residents of European cities has steadily grown. Here in Berlin, new dark faces pop up daily, who also in part come from the German colonies. Here one can observe and be amazed at the ability with which they find their way in their given circumstances and climb up to impressive positions. There is, for example, James Allen, a richly talented musician who attended Garfort College, but then gave up his studies to run away with a beautiful artist. Now every night he entertains the guests of a cafe in Friedrichstraße with his piano performances.


There’s also Joseph Byll, a very notable drawing talent. Until he finished his training he worked as a retuscheur in the studio of a well-known portrait photographer. Also Martin Dibobe and Thomas George must be known to many. Martin Dibobe is one of the Cameroon Negroes of the 1896 Colonial Exhibition. He liked Berlin so much that he made sure he could stay and so he was taken to train with a metal worker. Now the 28-year old Black man has found a position as a train driver with the elevated railway.

Thomas George

Thomas George has the important post of a “initial director” at the gates of the venue the Amorsäle. In his spotless suit, which suits the strongly-formed man excellently, George looks like a real gentleman. No young lady slides past without casting the Black Adonis a soppy look. He and Martin Dibobe and James Allen are married to white women, and they are also already fathers to more or less black-hued babies. Also in this respect do the Negroes living here in Europe have it better than those in America. Specifically, there mixed marriages between whites and Blacks are taboo, in the South even legally forbidden.

Source: Berliner illustrierte Zeitung (15 July 1902). Translated by Jeff Bowersox

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