Congratulations to Professor Eve Rosenhaft (German) on the recent publication of her book, Black Germany. The Making and Unmaking of a Diaspora Community 1884-1960. The monograph is about the community built by the generation of Africans who travelled to Germany when Germany had colonies in Africa, with a special focus on Cameroonians. Many of that generation went to Germany to study and be trained, and many of them were sponsored by Baptist missions.
In May of this year, Professor Rosenhaft travelled to Berlin and Eberwalde to give a series of public lectures connected to the monograph. In the course of her research for another book project, Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century, co-edited with Robbie Aitken, she had contacted the Baptist congregations which she knew had hosted these Cameroonian women, and they had been very helpful in producing pictures and documents of personal memories. As Professor Rosenhaft puts it, the trip in May ‘fulfilled a promise to take that history back to them in the form of illustrated lectures’. She gave a lecture in Friedrichshain in Berlin and also in Eberswalde, a small city north of Berlin. In both places audiences of about 40 were very interested in learning about – or being reminded of – their own history, which was linked to the history of the global anti-colonial and black consciousness movement through the career of Maria Mandessi Bell; she was the daughter of a member of the Cameroonian elite who married into a family of Senegalese activists and settled in Paris. Her son was the pioneering poet of pan-African consciousness, David Mandessi Diop, and her daughter the co-founder of the of the publishing house, Présence Africaine.
Professor Rosenhaft reports that ‘The listeners also engaged me in a heartfelt debate about the extent to which the African missions were complicit in the crimes of colonialism’. Eberswalde was a particularly resonant place to give this talk as it was the site of the first notorious racially-motivated murder to be committed in the former GDR after the end of socialism, that of Amadeu Antonio. The members of the Baptist church with whom Professor Rosenhaft spoke shared their memories of Antonio Amadeu with her: even in the 1980s the Baptists were part of a global mission as well as being active, in the GDR, in trying to maintain contact with African contract workers who were often isolated from the wider community. The lecture was attended by the director of the Eberswalde City Museum, and Professor Rosenhaft hopes to work with this museum in developing a more long-lasting record of this local history of black-white relations.
On the same trip, Professor Rosenhaft accompanied her Africa in Europe co-author Robbie Aitken as he gave a lecture on the educational role of the Baptist Mission at the Baptist Seminary in Elstal, near Berlin, where the mission archives are held. The image on the left shows a collection box for the Cameroon Baptist Mission, preserved in the church at Friedrichshain, similar to one shown to Professor Rosenhaft in Eberswalde.
This semester, Professor Rosenhaft has been awarded a Senior Research Fellowship at theHerzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, to carry out research on financial knowledge and popular investment behaviour – including investment in the slave trade – in 18th-century Germany. We at CLAS look forward to hearing more about this fascinating work in due course.