Monday, March 8, 2021

German POWs and Civil Rights


I have written here before about my beloved hometown of Tuskegee, Alabama.  Forgive me if you’ve read this before, but Tuskegee was unique among small rural Southern towns because of its large, well-educated, and fairly empowered Black population.  I wish I could find the reference source for this data, but years ago I read that the Black-to-White ratio in Tuskegee in 1960 was 11-to-1.  The principles established by the great American educator and philosopher Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute were embedded in the Black population of Tuskegee, and although they obviously struggled with statewide Jim Crow laws, they were an established economic force in Tuskegee.  A devastating Black boycott of White-owned businesses in Tuskegee in the 1950’s concerning a gerrymandering issue (Gomillion v Lightfoot) guaranteed that Whites recognized the survival necessity of treating the Black population with dignity and cooperation.  To say that Whites thrived in Tuskegee by keeping Blacks suppressed and subdued is to be ridiculously naïve of the reality of the situation.  Anyone who approached business that way in Tuskegee would have starved.  It was truly an amazing symbiotic relationship between both communities for the time – well, for any time, really.  That’s why I get a little upset when I see blanket historical anecdotes related to the Civil Rights struggle that are just outright lies intended to rewrite history to fit a forced, false narrative.  For example, take the German POW situation in the South during World War II.

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  1. I agree with Mr. Daniel in that it is "trendy" for the narrative that black Alabamians had less liberties than German POWS is propagandized. It makes good Hollywood stories for people who wish to perpetuate "racism", etc. I do not know of any instances like those portrayed in the movie "Red Tails". That is not to say that some did not occur, but I sincerely doubt and have yet to learn of any widescale program where German POWs were treated "better" than local black populations as a policy.
    For a great insight on German POWs, American prison camps, day to day operations, conditions of living, etc. in the Deep South, read "Our Guests Behind the Barb Wire: German POWS in America". The book pertains to everything from the conception to the dismantling of the camp near Aliceville, Alabama after the war. The book even goes in depth about the lives of some of the American personnel and Germans and their families after the war and reunions that continued into the 1990's.

    1. Looks good! Thanks.

  2. My experience with the German POW situation in the South during World War II was Mr. Hanz who lived down the street from us in the 70's. He was a German POW that stayed in the US after the war and became a citizen. He taught basic electronics at the signal school at Ft. Gordon. He was the matriarch on the block that treated all the kids like grandchildren. He would go all-out on holidays and setting up block parties for 4th of July, Halloween, and Veterans Day.