Faculty Publication: Robert Sackett, Department of History

Faculty Publication: Robert Sackett, Department of History

Photo of Robert Sacket


Sackett, R. (2018). Liberal alarm: West German press coverage of US civil rights, 1950s to 1966: US civil rights in the West German press, 1950s to 1966. German Life and Letters, 71(3), 308-330. doi:10.1111/glal.12197

Article's Abstract

Beginning in the 1950s, the West German press reported on US race relations. While ‘liberal’ on Civil Rights, it often expressed ambivalence or alarm. The background of these responses included the ‘re‐education’ of West Germans, in which American occupation officials tried to discredit Nazi racism, but also offered a view of US history in which the post‐Civil War Reconstruction of the South had allowed black men sexual access to white women. Some press writers represented Reconstruction as the origin of white resistance to equality, and often showed more sympathy for the resisters than was consistent with their stated support for black rights. Using the language of racial mixture, they evoked the fear felt by many southern whites and also alluded to contemporary West German anxiety about mixed‐race children of German women and black‐American GIs. About 1964, in an increasingly liberal environment, the press dropped this theme, but offered alarming accounts of black militancy. Around that time, ‘coming to terms with the past’ suggested comparisons of American with Nazi racism. The mainstream German press of the early 1960s was dividing into ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ branches, but both supported Civil Rights. These were also the years when a young generation of journalists rose to positions on editorial staffs, but older journalists were also supportive of the black cause. The conclusion draws attention to the lack of empathy with blacks in a discourse favoring black rights, and recommends a more concrete explanatory model than those found in a historiography favoring abstraction.