Imagining Black Power in the Global Sixties from Berlin to Beijing

AHA Session 143
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Tremont Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Peniel E. Joseph, Tufts University
Revolutionary Alliances: The African American Civil Rights Struggle in Divided Germany
Martin A. Klimke, German Historical Institute, Heidelberg Center for American Studies
Imagined Networks: China, America, and the Pacific 1960s
Zachary Scarlett, Northeastern University
Timothy S. Brown, Northeastern University

Session Abstract

This session examines a set of case-studies in which the powerful call for racial justice made by the Civil Rights protests and the black power movement in the United States inspired transformative local movements for social change.  The three papers discuss the circulation of racial justice in three very different milieu; Divided Germany, Communist China during the Cultural Revolution, and the sports-mad New Zealand of the nineteen-seventies. By exploring connections that straddled both the Atlantic and the Pacific world, this panel expands the concept of Civil Rights beyond the United States, and demonstrates the truly global nature of the 1960s. Martin Klimke begins with the largely forgotten visit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the divided city of Berlin in 1964 and discusses the resulting similarities and differences in transatlantic solidarity movements East and West of the Wall. His paper illustrates how in both cases these solidarity efforts were driven by references to the Nazi past, a taboo but potent source of social tension in Cold War Berlin. Zachary Scarlett explores the imagined connections between Chinese students participating in the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution and radical African American and Chinese American groups that emerged during the 1960s. He shows how radical groups in the United States believed Maoism was the key to racial justice and were often attracted to Mao’s Third World appeal, while Chinese students used racism in the United States as a means to demonstrate America’s continued imperialist tendencies. The result was often a misunderstanding of each respective movement, resulting in a triangular imagination between Chinese students, African Americans and Chinese Americans that rarely reflected reality. Rachel Gillett highlights the way in which the ‘national game’ of rugby forced New Zealanders to confront the intersection of sports, racial justice and international human rights agreements after 1968. By 1981 continued sporting ties with South Africa generated radical protests which selectively appropriated 'black power' tactics and rhetoric. Nationwide divisions and protests over the tour  of an ‘all-white’ South African rugby team demonstrated New Zealand's 'turn outward' but also shows how black power ideology was adapted for local use as it traveled across the Pacific. The panel will be chaired by Peniel Joseph, a pioneer in ‘black power studies’ and Timothy Brown, an authority on the Global Sixties. The panel’s exploration of these connected but locally specific and understudied 1960s protests is an exciting extension of current work on both the global 1960s and black power studies. The geographic diversity but thematic connection between the papers will open productive new ground for exploration in the discussion session. Finally, this panel will answer important questions about the interplay between the global, national and local that existed during the 1960s, as well as expand our current understanding of the decade beyond the traditional historiography. By exploring connections between Civil Rights and the Atlantic and Pacific worlds, this panel represents a truly global approach to racial protest and the 1960s.

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