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From Swastika to Jim Crow


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Lessons Learned

The unique relationship between the German scholars and their Black students offered opportunities for both to learn. Black students often thought of their teachers as mentors. The teachers learned from their students as well. View the video clips or read the corresponding text of lessons learned.

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John Biggers video

John Biggers
One day, Viktor [Professor Lowenfeld] invited me to go home to have dinner with them. Upon leaving the art center we went by the post office to get his mail. There he received a letter from the State Department. This was a terrible letter. It was announcing members of his family who were burned in concentration camps in Germany. He stopped for a few minutes, along the road, and read the letter aloud. And then he said to me, 'John, you're segregated. You have to ride on the back of the bus. You can't drink water in any building. You don't have toilet facilities,' he said, 'but, they're not burning you in mass. They just burned these members of my family - and these people did not commit any crime - they were just born, that's all.' So this was one of the first lessons for me in what we call race prejudice. And suddenly I realized it went beyond Black and White. I realized this was one of the truly great tragedies of the human family. This I have never forgotten.

Joyce Lander video

Joyce Lander
When I was older I asked, 'Dr. Borinski, how is it that you got this lab, and why did you bring [Black and White] people together?' He said, 'Because I didn't do civil rights demonstrations. I didn't go out to protest and I didn't go to jail. But I also felt that each person in his own way could make a contribution, and mine was to have people share ideas.' What a powerful statement that was.

John Herz video 1
Herz video 2

John Herz (Clip 1)
To tell the truth, after maybe one or two weeks I became color blind. I didn't have the impression anymore that there were different people sitting in front of me. It was like any other kind of students: the same average of very intelligent and not so very intelligent.

John Herz (Clip 2)
What struck me when I came here - favorably - was the less authoritarian relationship between faculty professors on one hand and students on the other hand, and also the more easygoing way with which that relationship functioned. For example, I remember one incident (I don't know whether you want to mention it) where after a lecture, a student came to me and put his hand on my shoulders and said, 'Doc, your fly is open.' ...Well, forget about it.

John Hope Franklin video

John Hope Franklin
I shall never forget the first time I witnessed the manifestation of anti-Semitism, when I was a graduate student at Harvard back in 1936. And when I suggested that a certain person in the Henry Adams history club be nominated for president, the other members of the nominating committee said, 'Well, um, he doesn't have all of the objectionable qualities of a Jew, but he is still a Jew.' I was absolutely dumbfounded - speechless.

William Jackson video

William Jackson
Dr. Manasse did suggest that I should apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. I think I expressed dismay and disbelief that he could even expect such a thing of me. But Dr. Manasse was a very soft-spoken person, a very, very gentle person, but a very, very persistent person. And this was one thing that he really wanted me to do - he wanted me to apply for a Fulbright. I really did get perturbed when he showed me what the forms looked like, and I, in a not very commendable attitude said, 'Okay, I will fill out these forms so that you won't have to bother me about it anymore,' or something to that effect. And I did. I went and I filled them out and applied for the Fulbright and hoped that he would be satisfied that I had gone through this very, very empty process. And then I got a Fulbright. And I felt about "that big." I felt that I just could not crawl back to his office low enough with an apology for how I had acted. The remarkable thing is - and I am sure I remember this correctly - never once did he say I told you so.

Yvonne Pappenheim video

Yvonne Pappenheim
We lived in a three-family house with one White family from New York who didn't like us because they felt we were too radical, and a Black family, who took me under their wing to teach me cooking so that [my husband] Fritz wouldn't starve.

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