In August of 1895 a local Berlin newspaper reported on “the first summer festival of Negroes living in Germany.” One hundred and eighty men and thirty women gathered in Berlin and listened to speeches in English from African Americans exhorting them to continue the fight to show whites that they should be granted access to the blessings of civilization, to embrace Germany as a land that has shown them the most warmth both in America and in Europe. They were then treated to a performance by Black minstrels, including the cakewalk dance that had not yet become a craze in Europe, and a trip to see local sights. Among the speakers were a “Mr. Woods,” described as the “head of an electrical factory in Cincinnati” and likely the inventor Granville Woods, and a “Mr. Mc. Cabe,” described as the “founder of a Negro colony in Alabama” and likely the political activist Edward P. McCabe. The organizers intended to repeat the gathering every two years, but we have no further information to suggest whether they did so. The piece shows efforts to build a sense of community among Blacks living in Germany and link them to a transatlantic struggle against racism.
Jeff Bowersox and Robbie Aitken
The first summer festival of Negroes living in Germany took place on Monday night in the forested surroundings of the Müggel Villa; it was attended by 180 members of the masculine and 50 members of the feminine sex. Mr. Woods, director of an electrical factory in Cincinnati, spoke at length in English: “In foreign lands we have found people who wish us well. It is our duty to show the Europeans that we are receptive to the blessings of civilization [Kultur]. The Negroes who have been imported to Europe, who have settled down in big cities and work hard not to be intellectually inferior to the whites, have long sensed the need to be greeted in their second homeland.” The speaker concluded, after he gave special consideration to Abraham Lincoln as the liberator of the Black race, with a cheer to His Majesty the Kaiser, which showed that his coloured subjects also take the time to think of his well-being.
Then, with the sounds of an unusual music began a Negro dance, the cake-walk. The Black gentlemen stepped forward in formal suits, their dark-skinned beauties constantly taking a bow. Whoever demonstrates the most elegant manner in this dance receives a prize in the form of a cake made according to the traditions of their homeland. Then there was a question and answer game. The lines of minstrels found unanimous applause. Then the founder of a Negro colony in Alabama, Mr. Mc. Cabe, who noted that dandies aren’t lacking among the Negroes, introduced a posse in which the well-mannered behaviour of the modern fools of fashion was lampooned.
In a longer speech, Mr. Gavin emphasized that Negroes had found warm advocates and defenders especially among the Germans. It will not be forgotten that the Germans of North America had allowed their Black fellow men to take part in their celebrations, and for this reason he raised a toast to Germandom. This distinctive celebration, which should be repeated every two years, ended in the late hours. Before their departure the Negroes intended to visit the mausoleum in Charlottenburg: the tomb of Kaiser Frederick had already been visited the day before.
Source: Teltower Kreisblatt (01 August 1895), translated by Jeff Bowersox.
First biennial gathering of negroes in Germany (1895) by Jeff Bowersox and Robbie Aitken 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/.