In an effort to reflect on the history of the black and German communities in St. Louis, Gitana Productions will host “The Face of Love: Symposium on the Common History of German and African Americans” on Feb. 23 at the German Cultural Society’s Jefferson Hall in South City. The event will focus on German immigrants’ contribution to the abolition of slavery in Missouri.
The intersecting history of the two communities is worthy of discussion. Although many Germans came to America in the 1880s seeking a less-oppressive government, there were German immigrants who advocated for the abolition of slavery and others who were interested in the maintenance of the institution.
In her book “Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America,” Kristen Layne Anderson writes that “the racial ideology of the majority of German Americans in St. Louis was quite pragmatic, in that they shifted their position on slavery and the place of African Americans in American society when it benefited their own community to do so.” Anderson notes that one proponent of abolition, Arnold Krekel, owned slaves before beginning his advocacy for antislavery, and that some “radical Germans” who supported desegregation and suffrage for black men shifted their views and aligned themselves with the views of their conservative counterparts (who voted against such rights for black residents in the state) after acknowledging that “African Americans did not tend to vote with the Germans.”
The symposium offers a variety of perspectives from black and German community members, including Dr. John W. Wright, who has written extensively about the history and experiences of black people in St. Louis, and Dr. Sydney Norton of Saint Louis University, who curated the exhibition “German Immigrant Abolitionists: Fighting for a Free Missouri” in 2016. Other speakers include social activist and Ferguson Commission leader the Rev. Starsky Wilson and Dorris Keeven-Franke of the Missouri Germans Consortium. Ruth Ezell, a producer and reporter for KETC-TV, will moderate.
In keeping with Gitana Production’s mission of “global healing through the arts,” the afternoon will also include entertainment from the local black and German communities. The free event runs from 2-5 p.m. and is open to the public. For more information and to register, visit gitana-inc.org.