The “African Self-Help Organization” (Afrikanische Hilfsverein) was founded in Hamburg in 1918. Its goal was to establish a central organizing point for Africans living in Germany, to serve as a “substitute for the tribal community and family in the homeland.” It was also intended to provide members with support in times of illness or death. At the time of its founding the organization had thirty-two paying members, half of whom were based in Hamburg, but any Black people living in Germany were eligible to join. As such it was pan-African in its composition, with members, all men, coming largely from the former German colonies – Cameroon, Togo, East Africa, but also from Liberia and the Virgin Islands. By 1920, according to an internal report, the organisation now had 43 members. To provide support to one another the organization relied on dues paid by members, but the growing social problems of the early 1920s far eclipsed its resources. The organization existed until around 1924/25.
Although the group’s statutes stated that this was an explicitly apolitical organization, there is clear evidence that it intervened in matters of close social and political interest to members and that it provided a foundation for later Black activism. In the confusion over the status of the German colonies in the immediate post-war period the organization sought to provide members who looked to return to Africa with a covering letter to ease the difficulties of returning. In addition, in 1920 the organization explicitly asked the Interior Ministry to provide it with the legal authority to respond to all questions pertaining to the colonies and their populations. This request echoed aspects of the 1919 Dibobe petition, which many of the group’s members signed. Like the petition it too was largely ignored by the authorities. The group’s apparent last public intervention was when the actor Louis Brody wrote an open letter in the newspaper B.Z. am Mittag on members’ behalf complaining about the abuse they had suffered on account of the Black Shame propaganda campaign. Brody, alongside the architect and Comintern activist Joseph Bilé and Victor Bell were among those who were also later members of the more radical group, the “German Section of the League for Defence of the Negro Race”.
Philipp Koepsell and Robbie Aitken
The African Welfare Association
The aim of the association is to create a centre and with that a support for all Africans living in Germany, which, as far is possible, replaces the tribal society and family of home.
The African Welfare Association should not simply help and stand by members in cases of illness and death, but it should also be a communication point, through which relatives in Africa can always find out more about the stay of family members living in Germany.
Further, a work identity certificate is to be arranged for all association members and we ask all members to keep us up to date as to where there are employment positions for our compatriots.
In no way will the association deal with political issues.
§1 Any member of our black race and any person of colour can be a member.
§2 The membership cost is 1.25M a week or 5M a month.
§3 In the interest of our cause we ask those who earn well, to support the association with larger contributions.
§4 The contributions are to be sent free of postage to the association, as are all enquiries and all communications.
§5 Anyone who is more than three months in arrears with their contribution, without providing evidence of having been unemployed, can be removed from the membership list.
§6 Any member who is not present on the day of meeting, without an excuse, is to pay the association 20 cents.
§7 Anyone who wants to resign from the association has no right to the association’s assets.
§8 If the case of death the association will take responsibility for the funeral, if there is no other fund to pay for this.
§9 For children of deceased members, as well as for those who through no fault of their own find themselves in need, the association will step in to help, as long as there are funds to allow this.
§10 Further, the association will function as a form of legal protection for members and after studious consideration of the situation will support with advice and help countrymen lacking knowledge of the language and laws.
§11 In all cases not mentioned in the statues the African Welfare Association will also support its members, therefore the unity of all is a necessity. The association should replace a bit of home and take away the feeling of isolation [from living] amidst the white population.
Hamburg, ca. August 1918
Source: “Gründungssatzung des ‘Afrikanischen Hilfsvereins’ von 1918,” Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 331-3, SA 2819. Translated by Robbie Aitken.
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