Seventh grade German students at CRMS learn about the lives of various African-Americans or Afrodeutsche during Black History Month
By KRYSTAL NURSE
German teacher at Clearview Regional Middle School “Frau” Patricia Walton allowed her seventh-grade students to do their own take on Black History Month with African-Americans and black figures of German descent.
Seven students spoke on the experiences of six figures: Richard Adjei (black German soccer player-turned Olympic bobsledder), Louis Brody (Afro-German actor), Ika “Erika” Hugel-Marshall (Afro-German author), Marie “Leila Negra” Nejar (Afro-German singer and actress), Jana Pareigis (German journalist of various ethnic background) and Jesse Owens (American track and field Olympic athlete).
“Traditionally, we tend to focus on [Martin Luther King Jr.] and Rosa Parks, and instead, we put the kids in charge and let them choose their own figures, such as historical figures, sports, rappers, writers and others,” said Walton. “Teenagers in Germany are the same teenagers here.”
The students, she added, had figures who were alive during and after World War II, and some who were alive during the Civil Rights Movement and now, which allowed the students to see how differently, or similarly, they were treated compared to African-Americans in the U.S.
“Generally, we seem to find out that before World War II, they were treated better in Germany than they were in America,” said Walton. “They could go into restaurants, hotels, bathrooms, they were in jazz clubs, and some of our Afro-Americans going over there had a much better experience and they didn’t face as much discrimination as they did here.”
Eleanor Race, who studied Owens, remarked how, after his 1936 Olympic golds in Berlin, Germany, Owens was welcomed more by Germany and Adolf Hitler than the U.S., his home country, and former president Franklin D. Roosevelt who, she said, didn’t extend a White House invitation to Owens.
Some of the people the seventh-graders studied had opposite experiences.
“During WWII, [Brody’s] acting career came to a halt as he stopped appearing in so many movies,” said Dion Christoforatos. He later added Brody’s career dipped due to Hitler.
Madison Waddington said when the person she studied, Pareigis, who is a journalist in Germany, is asked about where she’s from in relation to her skin color, she is often stared at in a negative manner and will sometimes hear racist comments.
“I think it’s interesting how it was almost easy-going back then, and it’s weird how now time is going backwards,” said Waddington. “Now, they have to face discrimination.”
Walton added other students found out that, despite the Nazi party’s ban in Germany, people are still pushing back against Germans of a darker complexion today.
“People are coming up to them and saying ‘where were you born’ and they’d say they’re German, and the one guy someone did a project on, makes T-shirts and is an American, and he went to study in Germany and he gets asked all of the time ‘do you have drugs?’” said Walton.
Seventh-grader Danielle Grunwald said the lesson has helped her see how African-Americans were treated during the Civil Rights Movement with the treatment many are facing now in Germany.
Walton said she plans to do something similar for Women’s History Month.