Written in German for German immigrants arriving to the United States in the 1880s, African American intellectual and scholar W.E.B. DuBois’s speech presents a vision of Germany that’s quite positive.
The statue of Germania stands at the border of the German fatherland where the plunging Rhine murmurs its tales against its banks. In her raised right hand she holds a shining sword while the shield in her left hand glitters in the midday sun. Her eyes are turned to the west where many of her sons, nourished at her bosom, had gone to a new fatherland. They came to a foreign country to live among a foreign people who are sons of Adam, but whose faces, alas, are black, faces they have been taught to despise, and, what is more, that contact with them would stain them. Did the German fatherland teach them to set their hearts according to the color of people ‘s faces; did the God of the Germans direct that the door to the house of Jesus Christ be shut against my people? Can this be true? I cannot believe that the house of Hus and Luther could accept such teaching. No! For before they throw themselves into the hell of southern prejudice, they will listen to the voice of an oppressed people, of a growing nation that, with the help of God and its own right hand rises higher and higher, closer to the perfect day.
A quarter of a century ago, these people were slaves and even learned philosophers wisely declared that they had no souls, and Christ’s own priests sermonized this from the pulpit. The land of God could not remain silent; freedom’s march could not be stopped. Just as the Germans were glad to see the fall of Berlin avenged by the fall of Paris, likewise great happiness broke out in the black breasts in America when the slaves went free. Perhaps for the first time since their arrival in America, they [the German immigrants] find themselves within the walls of a Negro university. They listen to the rhetorical striving of a class that has learned to love their mother tongue [German]. Are the results different from those among whites? We do not wish to arouse their pity with long speeches or shallow conversation. They should visit us and see for themselves whether the Negro here is not at least worthy of their respect. They should not allow any bugbears of social equality to influence their good will. The Negro has no wish to laze about in their living rooms, but he demands the God-given right to be treated as a man. And once their unbiased senses will tell them, “the colors but the guinea’s” stamp, a man’s a man for all that, then, by the tumbling waters of the Rhine, the shield of Germania will shine even brighter in the midday sun, and her sparkling sword, raised higher, will seek the heavens, and with her eyes directed toward the new fatherland, she will now murmur a happy “Amen.”
* Translated by Ursula Marcum, Ph.D. Published with the permission of the W. E. B. Du Bois Foundation, Inc.