Founding a Black Information Center in West Berlin (1970)

Morris Herrin and Fred Mathews, from Ebony (June 1967), 98

In November 1970 Fred and Silvia Mathews founded the Black Information Center at their address in West Berlin, not far from the Schöneberg City Hall where Kennedy famously declared himself a Berliner. Little is currently known about Silvia, but we know from a profile in Ebony that Fred was a quiet man who had served in the US Army in West Berlin and stayed there after being discharged. In the mid-1960s, he and his friend Moses Herrin became involved in lucrative work smuggling refugees out of East Berlin, which continued until they were caught in 1965 and spent months in East German prisons. Sometime after this Fred and Silvia married and planned the BIC.

It is not entirely clear who used the BIC, but we do know something of its uses. We know, from a report from an activist group of Black Marxist soldiers that held some meetings at the BIC, that there were regular “rap sessions” on Sundays that mainly drew Black G.I.s, and there was a display of political materials from organisations like the Black Panthers, although Silvia insisted to them the BIC had no political affiliations. The circumstances of its founding are entirely unclear, although we get a titillating detail from the activist group above. Their report suggested that “the funds for the BIC probably came from a black hustler, who is at present in copenhagen. (at one time, he was somewhat with the where it’s at group.)” Nothing further is currently known about this figure, although the assessment could reflect the activists’ suspicious view of the BIC’s vague politics.

As the flyer reprinted below suggests, the BIC was intended to provide resources for education and research, including books and films and music. It also provided a space for a diasporic community-building and political organising that was based in African-American experiences but also aimed to reach out to Black Germans and Africans in West Berlin. Ambitiously, the BIC also aimed to provide economic and legal support for Black men in need. The patriarchal emphasis is worth noting given Silvia’s role in the organisation, but it also points to the sorts of challenges that Black men, and perhaps especially ex-G.I.s, faced in West Berlin. In its ambitious range of aims, the BIC stands in a long tradition of self-help initiatives that runs at least from the African Self-Help Organization to Each One Teach One (EOTO) in Berlin-Wedding today.

The BIC’s ultimate fate is currently unknown, but West Berlin phonebooks suggest that its phone number was active until 1973.

Jeff Bowersox


Black Information Center

In a couple of days, 13. Nov. 1970, a new place will be opened. It will be of interest to all Black and White alike.

We wish to inform you and let you inform yourself of black movements, black groups, black writers, in a few words– Black history.

There will be books of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and Richard Wright, just to name a few.

We intend to show films and have speakers to help to inform you of what is going on in the world.

With the help of serios [sic] minded Black men we intend to help black families in the States and Afrika [sic] with clothes and any other help. A collection will be hold [sic] every week. We will build an action committee of black men to see that this is carried out.

There will be an entrance fee of 1,50 DM. 0,50 Pf. of this will go to build a fund to help all black men who are in need (loans, lawyers, work, rooms, etc.)

Feel free to come to the B.I.C., any time there will be someone there to help you.

All those, want to be in the action committee, please let us know, come or call.

Come to the opening at 19hrs. m, free entrance and free drinks!!

Black information center

Brother F. Mathews

1 Berlin 62, Hauptstr. 30

Tel.: 781 81 10 / 71 1441

Source: F. Mathews, “Black Information Center,” Each One Teach One (EOTO) Archive, Berlin. Special thanks to Philipp Khabo Koepsell and EOTO for generously providing access to their resources.

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