10 influential Black people who have made their mark on German history

To celebrate Black History Month, The Local has put together a list of some influential Black people who have made their mark on Germany.

Former German women's national team coach Steffi Jones at a friendly between Germany and France in 2017.
Former German women's national team coach Steffi Jones at a friendly between Germany and France in 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Friso Gentsch/dpa | Friso Gentsch

Black History Month takes place every February and is celebrated across the globe – including here in Germany.

It was introduced in Germany in1990 by the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (Initiative of Black People in Germany or ISD).

Tahir Della, of the ISD, told The Local about the importance of recognising the contributions of Black people in Germany throughout history and modern times. 

“Resistance is an important part of the Black movement and also has a long tradition in Germany,” he said. 

“Despite the fact that people of the African Diaspora – including Black Germans – have lived in this region for over 300 years, Germany is still understood by many people as a white nation.

“Black resistance is therefore first and foremost a struggle for recognition. For this reason, Black History Month has been held in numerous cities in Germany.”

Della added that the event is used to remember German history in a more inclusive way. 

READ ALSO: Black people in Germany face widespread racism, survey finds

Participants at a Black Lives Matter march in Berlin in July 2021.

Participants at a Black Lives Matter march in Berlin in July 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

While far from being an exhaustive list, here are 10 Black people who have made their mark on German history and the modern day. 

Louis Brody (1892-1951) was a Cameroonian-born German actor who co-founded and was actively involved with Afrikanischer Hilfsversein (African Relief Organisation), an organisation that spoke out against racial discrimination in Germany during the 1920s. 

His film career was plagued by several racist roles in propaganda films during the Nazi regime which enabled him to support himself financially. Nevertheless, he paved the way for other Afro-German actors, and he continued working in film in Berlin up until his death. 

Cameroonian-born German actor Louis Brody. Photo: Yva/Wikimedia Commons

Theodor Michael (1925-2019), at 18, was forced into working in Nazi labour camps after being declared stateless as a result of his skin colour. He was also often featured in Nazi propaganda films as means of survival. 

After the war, he went on to study political science and became a prominent journalist, notably as head editor of the “African Bulletin” magazine. 

He was also a civil servant and was actively involved in the Black community throughout his life, pushing for the recognition of Black people as Germans.

READ ALSO: ‘Black lives need to matter in Germany’ New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Audre Lorde (1934-1992), although originally from the United States, made a profound impact on the Black German movement and became an influence on many Black German female writers. 

A writer, feminist and civil rights activist, Lorde came to Germany in the 1980s and spent most of her time in Berlin organising community events and bringing Black German women together. 

The award-winning documentary “Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984–1992” explores her influence on the movement. 

May Ayim (1960-1996) was one such writer, as well as a poet, educator and activist. She published her thesis as a renowned collection of personal essays under the title Farbe bekennen (English title: Showing Our Colours: Afro-German Women Speak Out), which recounted the experiences of many Afro-German women in German society. She also helped co-found the Berlin chapter of the ISD. 

The May-Ayim-Ufer along the Spree River in Berlin-Kreuzberg is named after her.

Other writers include Ika Hügel-Marshall, who wrote about her experience growing up black in post-war Germany. All were active in the ADEFRA (Afro-Deutsche Frauen) organisation.

Vera Heyer (1946-1995) began collecting and cataloguing the works of African, Afro-diasporic, and Black authors in the 1970s and invited members of the Black community into her small apartment in Mainz, where she created a makeshift library. 

Her vision of turning them into a permanent library came to fruition after her death, with the opening of the Vera Heyer Archive in 2014. 

The collection is now housed in the Each One Teach One (EOTO) Library in Berlin’s African Quarter.

Karamba Diaby (1961-) is an SPD politician who, in 2013, made history by becoming the first member of the German Bundestag of African descent alongside Charles Huber of the CDU. 

German MP Karamba Diaby speaks at the party conference of the SPD Saxony-Anhalt in Magdeburg in September 2021.

German MP Karamba Diaby speaks at the party conference of the SPD Saxony-Anhalt in Magdeburg in September 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Ronny Hartmann

Both politicians paved the way for many other Afro-Germans to make their way into the Bundestag, with four being elected to the role in 2021, including the first Black woman, Awet Tesfaiesus

Steffi Jones (1972-) is former football player who played for, and went on to manage, Germany’s women’s national team. 

She featured in the documentary film Schwarze Adler in 2021, speaking on her experiences as an Afro-German woman in football and bringing attention to the racism she’s faced. She has since become an advocate and role model for women and Black people in sports.

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Munich gives Russian maestro ultimatum over Ukraine

Acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev on Friday was told to speak out against Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine or risk losing his job as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic.

Munich gives Russian maestro ultimatum over Ukraine

Gergiev, known for his warm ties with the Kremlin, had already faced pressure from other arts institutions wary of working with him since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday.

“I have made my position clear to Gergiev and also called on him to clearly and unequivocally distance himself from the brutal war of aggression that Putin is waging against Ukraine,” Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said in a statement.

“Should Gergiev not have clearly taken a stance by Monday, he can no longer remain chief conductor of our Philharmonic Orchestra,” Reiter said.

As well as being the principal conductor in Munich since 2015, Gergiev is also the chief of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.

He has not yet spoken publicly regarding Moscow’s offensive, but he has proven fiercely loyal to the Russian president in the past, allying with him on  the annexation of Crimea and a law aimed at stifling LGBT rights activists in Russia.

Gergiev has also faced pressure to speak out in Milan, where he is currently leading Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades” at the Teatro alla Scala.

If he doesn’t, “the collaboration will be over,” Italian media quoted Milan’s mayor as saying.

He was also suddenly dropped on Thursday from concerts where he was due to lead the Vienna Philharmonic at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

A spokesperson for the prestigious venue told AFP the decision had been taken “due to recent world events”.