As part of the post-World War One Allied occupation of the Rhineland, French troops were present there from 1919 to 1930. From 1919 onwards among the French forces were between 25-40,000 colonial soldiers, though their numbers were already declining by 1921. Coming largely from West and North Africa (in particular Senegal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) as well as Asia their presence in Germany led to an international, virulent anti-Black propaganda campaign, the Black Shame (schwarze Schmach). Black soldiers were accused of savaging white women and highly racialized images of them appeared in the international press. The campaign reached its highpoint around 1920 to 1923. But: there was a renewal of its racist imagery and language in German propaganda and media with the outbreak of World War Two and France’s mobilisation of over 100,000 French Colonial troops to serve in Europe.
The letter below written by the Cameroonian Louis Brody (Bebe Mpessa) demonstrates that the campaign had considerable repercussions for Germany’s small resident Black population, members of which were subject to verbal and physical abuse. Writing in the name of the self-help organisation, the African Welfare Society, Brody asks that the German public treat Black residents with respect instead of contempt, while at the same time emphasising their ties to Germany.
The German Negroes and the “Black Shame”
The German Negro Lowis (sic) Brody writes to us in the name of the African Welfare Society.
Those Blacks from the former Germany colonies who are currently residing in Germany are suffering greatly on account of the reports on the ‘Black Shame’, published in a number of newspapers.
The Germans appear completely oblivious to the fact that they once had colonies too and that up to now there has been no decision about the fate of the natives in the former German colonies, whether they are colonial subjects of the Entente powers or whether they remain German. Politically, for the time being the natives in the occupied colonies are being treated as German. Further, for the same reason the return journey of natives, who currently reside in Germany, is made much more difficult.
We ask therefore that the Germans take into consideration that we are suffering just like every other German and that they do not look down on us.
We want to especially make clear that we are not the immoral and uncultivated race, as is now in Germany all too commonly claimed. We need to remind the Germans that Lettow-Vorbeck did not fight the war alone in Africa, but that the natives participated and that with pride they rallied behind the German flag. The Blacks who reside in Berlin and in the parts of Germany not occupied come from the former German colonies. They are not Asians or Blacks from the occupied territory. We therefore ask the Germans to respect these Blacks and not to continue through reports on the ‘Black Shame’ to agitate against them.
The background to our letter is the following case: roughly 14 days ago a countryman of ours who was peacefully walking down the street was suddenly attacked by passers-by and verbally harassed and beaten in a terrible manner, because the people took for granted here was a Black person from the occupied territory.
Source: Louis Brody, “Die deutschen Neger und die ‘schwarze Schmach’,” B.Z. am Mittag (24 May 1921). Translated by Robbie Aitken.
Louis Brody on Black Germans and the “Black Shame” (1921) by 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/.