The History of Black German Speakers and Afro-German Relations in Texas
The roots of the German language in North America go back to the time of early colonization. The presence of German speakers peaked in the 19th century, with some 9 million people speaking German in the U.S. at the turn of the century, according to estimates. A side effect of the strong presence of German was the rise of the language as a lingua franca between different ethnic groups. European immigrant groups such as the Sorbs, Czechs, Alsatians, Jews, and emigrants from Austria-Hungary were previously considered special cases. The significant role of German for African-Americans who had German-speaking neighbors or lived among German immigrants has only recently been revisited. In Texas alone, there were many instances of African Americans learning German in the 19th and 20th centuries. But why did they acquire German? Was it solely for economic purposes? Or did the Germans differ from other groups in their attitudes toward slavery and segregation as is often claimed? Did the outsider role Germans assumed during World War I even contribute to a feeling of solidarity between the two groups?
Our former researcher David Hünlich investigated these questions during a DAAD fellowship at Texas A&M University in 2021. Results of the historical-linguistic project were made available under www.afrogermantexas.info. The interview data is being stored at the IDS archives as part of "German in the World."
A contribution by the Deutschlandfunk (German national public radio) on "Why Black Slaves Spoke German" can be found here.