The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs, and Germany

Jan 01, 2012

Exhibition | Organized by Martin Klimke

Until recently, the story of the African American civil rights movement has been told largely within the context of American history. Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have scholars shown how U.S. foreign policy concerns and the competition with the Soviet Union forced policy makers in Washington to support the civil rights agenda.

What receives almost no attention in this Cold War interpretation, however, is America's involvement in Europe, and the role that the expansion of the American military base system and the encounter with Germans after WWII played in the unfolding drama of the civil rights struggle. Yet, by bringing a segregated Jim Crow army to military bases outside the physical boundaries of the United States, America literally transposed its racial conflict and its actors onto foreign soil.

This exhibition shows how Germany emerged as a critical point of reference in African American demands for an end to segregation and for equal rights. By illustrating the untold story of African-American GIs and the transnational implications of the African American civil rights movement, it hopes to advance a more nuanced and sophisticated sense of how America's struggle for democracy reverberated across the globe.

The exhibition presents the first results of a joint research initiative of the German Historical Institute, Vassar College, and the Heidelberg Center for American Studies at the University of Heidelberg.

Further information about the project and updates on locations please visit:

Past Locations (USA)

  • Amherst, MA - University of Massachusetts (Spring, 2012)
  • Lancaster, PA - Franklin & Marshall College (November - December, 2011)
  • Chapel Hill, NC - University of North Carolina (September - October, 2011)
  • Athens, GA - University of Georgia (March 15 - April 30, 2011)
  • Oxford, MS - University of Mississippi (February 1 - March 1, 2011)
  • Berkeley, CA - University of California (October 6 - November 6, 2010)
  • Poughkeepsie, NY - Vassar College (October 1 - 29, 2009)


Past Locations (Germany)

  • Heidelberg - Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA, University of Heidelberg) (Summer 2011)
  • Tübingen - Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut Tübingen (Winter 2011)
  • Hamburg - Amerikazentrum Hamburg (Fall 2010)
  • Augsburg - University of Augsburg (July 15 - August 15, 2010)
  • Mainz - University of Mainz / Landeshauptstadt Mainz (April 07 - 21, 2010)
  • Munich - Bavarian American Center at America House Munich (January 22 - March 05, 2010)
  • Berlin - Landesvertretung Rheinland-Pfalz (November 26 - December 22, 2009)
  • Verbandsgemeinde und Stadt Birkenfeld (August 31 - September 25, 2009)
  • Ramstein - Air Base Documentary & Exhibition Center (May 29 - July 19, 2009)