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Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South

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In 1901, the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, sent an expedition to the German colony of Togo in West Africa, with the purpose of transforming the region into a cotton economy similar to that of the post-Reconstruction American South. Alabama in Africa explores the politics of labor, sexuality, and race behind this endeavor, and the economic, political, In 1901, the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, sent an expedition to the German colony of Togo in West Africa, with the purpose of transforming the region into a cotton economy similar to that of the post-Reconstruction American South. Alabama in Africa explores the politics of labor, sexuality, and race behind this endeavor, and the economic, political, and intellectual links connecting Germany, Africa, and the southern United States. The cross-fertilization of histories and practices led to the emergence of a global South, reproduced social inequities on both sides of the Atlantic, and pushed the American South and the German Empire to the forefront of modern colonialism. Zimmerman shows how the people of Togo, rather than serving as a blank slate for American and German ideologies, helped shape their region's place in the global South. He looks at the forms of resistance pioneered by African American freedpeople, Polish migrant laborers, African cotton cultivators, and other groups exploited by, but never passive victims of, the growing colonial political economy. Zimmerman reconstructs the social science of the global South formulated by such thinkers as Max Weber and W.E.B. Du Bois, and reveals how their theories continue to define contemporary race, class, and culture. Tracking the intertwined histories of Europe, Africa, and the Americas at the turn of the century, Alabama in Africa shows how the politics and economics of the segregated American South significantly reshaped other areas of the world.


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In 1901, the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, sent an expedition to the German colony of Togo in West Africa, with the purpose of transforming the region into a cotton economy similar to that of the post-Reconstruction American South. Alabama in Africa explores the politics of labor, sexuality, and race behind this endeavor, and the economic, political, In 1901, the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, sent an expedition to the German colony of Togo in West Africa, with the purpose of transforming the region into a cotton economy similar to that of the post-Reconstruction American South. Alabama in Africa explores the politics of labor, sexuality, and race behind this endeavor, and the economic, political, and intellectual links connecting Germany, Africa, and the southern United States. The cross-fertilization of histories and practices led to the emergence of a global South, reproduced social inequities on both sides of the Atlantic, and pushed the American South and the German Empire to the forefront of modern colonialism. Zimmerman shows how the people of Togo, rather than serving as a blank slate for American and German ideologies, helped shape their region's place in the global South. He looks at the forms of resistance pioneered by African American freedpeople, Polish migrant laborers, African cotton cultivators, and other groups exploited by, but never passive victims of, the growing colonial political economy. Zimmerman reconstructs the social science of the global South formulated by such thinkers as Max Weber and W.E.B. Du Bois, and reveals how their theories continue to define contemporary race, class, and culture. Tracking the intertwined histories of Europe, Africa, and the Americas at the turn of the century, Alabama in Africa shows how the politics and economics of the segregated American South significantly reshaped other areas of the world.

30 review for Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Hiserman

    Zimmerman builds on the “global turn” in history with his intellectual and racial history of global capitalism in Alabama in Africa. He maintains that German, American, and African-American historical figures grafted a racialized labor ideal imported from the American New South onto the emerging global South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Zimmerman refutes scholarly narratives of German and American exceptionalism, nuances Booker T. Washington’s “conservative” racial visi Zimmerman builds on the “global turn” in history with his intellectual and racial history of global capitalism in Alabama in Africa. He maintains that German, American, and African-American historical figures grafted a racialized labor ideal imported from the American New South onto the emerging global South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Zimmerman refutes scholarly narratives of German and American exceptionalism, nuances Booker T. Washington’s “conservative” racial vision, and reframes Germany’s colonial might. On exceptionalism, Zimmerman argues that scholars of Germany and America should see those countries linked with African nations as common historical players instead of asserting national isolation and greatness over other nations (p. 3). He portrays Booker T. Washington’s evolving views of black emancipation from a “liberal” strain broadly concerned with all opportunities for uplift to a “conservative” strain narrowly focused racial uplift via industry seen against a new international context for Washington’s Alabama Tuskegee Institute and his ideas (p. 10). Thirdly, Zimmerman states historians underestimated Germany’s colonial might because they measured it in terms of its comparatively small colonial holdings compared to Britain and France. Germany drew great colonial strength from the model grounded in sociology of race and black American New South labor patterns that other colonial powers adopted, according to Zimmerman (p. 11-12). Finally, Zimmerman touches on major themes of race, family and household, colonialism, capitalism, African and African-American freedom and resistance, social science’s emergence, and modernity in Alabama in Africa. In five chapters, Zimmerman paints his portrait of a global South. In the first chapter, he says Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Institute were the racist vanguard that transported the American New South’s racial hierarchies to the global South, specifically Togo, at the behest of German colonial officials. Then, Zimmerman demonstrates in chapter two how race became transnational because German social scientists corralled Polish free labor by German settlement and labor instruction of the Poles and the Tuskegee expedition taught scientific farming to the Togolese. Focusing on Togo, Zimmerman contends Tuskegee agricultural education reshaped diverse Togolese ethnic identities into a unitary “Negro” identity and drove the Togolese from various administrative jobs into cotton agriculture in the third chapter. In chapter four, Zimmerman illumines how the Tuskegee-German colonial model became normative for twentieth-century colonialism and its success prompted Washington’s move toward a labor-oriented education from an academic-industry balance at Tuskegee. Lastly, Zimmerman explains in his fifth chapter how Washington’s Tuskegee model nourished the rise American and European sociology because German and American scholars constructed a sociology of race by visiting and observing Tuskegee and Togo. In his conclusion, Zimmerman details Communist inclusion of black anti-colonial resistance post-World War I and Communist parallels between Prussia and the American New South. A particular strength of Zimmerman’s book consists of how his intellectually-focused source base matches his intellectual history of race and colonialism. He conducted research in numerous German and American periodicals about Africa, large swaths of correspondence from German and American sociologists and intellectuals, American and German sociological journals and studies on Africa, and many German colonial administrative documents, among others. All of those documents contain a gold mine for sociological ideas and their exponents he details in chapters two and five. Nevertheless, one small flaw stands out. Zimmerman’s global and racial focus marginalizes the influence of American black nationalism. He mentions Martin Delaney’s stereotype of black’s special affinity for cotton growing (p. 12-13) but does not raise the issue of Delaney’s push for a black nation separate from the United States or black intellectual Frederick Douglass’s opposite call for assimilation into American society. Parsing out the influence of the separatist-assimilationist tendencies on Washington and his Tuskegee colleagues might have enriched their idea of African nations as lands of promise for blacks because separatists viewed Africa and not America as a place for black flourishing. Generally, historians and non-historians will find Zimmerman’s book an engaging take on race and globalization.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Rohn

    As more people learn the important history of Jim Crow in the US between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, two difficult to dislodge myths have been embedded in these newly popular histories – that this era’s methods of racial segregation and violence were age old inherited prejudices, and that they were solely American in character. The reality is that the modes of racism which defined this half century, whatever their lineage from previous forms of American racism, were distinct product As more people learn the important history of Jim Crow in the US between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, two difficult to dislodge myths have been embedded in these newly popular histories – that this era’s methods of racial segregation and violence were age old inherited prejudices, and that they were solely American in character. The reality is that the modes of racism which defined this half century, whatever their lineage from previous forms of American racism, were distinct products of modernization just as much as electrification and radio were, a critical part in the forging of the New South. The Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 just a year before European empires met to carve up Africa at the Berlin Conference, inaugurating an era of transoceanic exchange in new social technologies of racial control, as literacy tests were exported from Mississippi to Australia and South Africa, primarily white countries collectively developed passport systems, and enthusiastically iterated on each other’s innovations in urban segregation. Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South by Andrew Zimmerman provides an excellent history of this internationalization of systems of racial control at the turn of the twentieth century by examining Germany’s attempt to import the agricultural economy of the Jim Crow South to Togo, its roots in German labor policy at home, and the results of this venture for American and European understandings of race in the newly emerging field of sociology. The fact that this happened with the cooperation of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute makes the international politics of race and labor relations during this period in world history all the more complex and informative. Tracing the history of the unusual alliance between the Kaiser and America’s best known black activist at the time over three continents, this book may be the best text to break down the understanding of racism in post Reconstruction America as nothing more than the distinctly national inheritance of an original sin. Drawing the Global Colour Line is the only other book which has made me this confident about the kind of work I want to do and as excited for the untapped potential of history in this era.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

    A beautiful example of doing global history. Emergence of sociology in late 19th century is not anti-racist, but neo-racist. Argues that certain societies are particularly specialized for certain social roles; for "Negroes" that role was labor, whether they lived in Alabama or Africa. This creates a "global division of labor" where education needs to be tailored to people based on their background. Zimmerman's approach emphasizes the transnational intellectual milieu from which this arises (thin A beautiful example of doing global history. Emergence of sociology in late 19th century is not anti-racist, but neo-racist. Argues that certain societies are particularly specialized for certain social roles; for "Negroes" that role was labor, whether they lived in Alabama or Africa. This creates a "global division of labor" where education needs to be tailored to people based on their background. Zimmerman's approach emphasizes the transnational intellectual milieu from which this arises (think Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings) Germans compare their Polish border to the Global South--laborers for them. Europeans carve up Africa in 1884 at the Berlin Conference partially out of a desire to civilize the continent. Looking at the German colony of Togo, Zimmerman explores a fascinating interaction between Germans, Togolese, and African-Americans. German social scientists looked to the US South as a model for their African colony--they saw the postbellum system as one that uplifted the black community by training them to do profitable, advanced industrial work. Since Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute as designed for that purpose, the Germans hired African Americans there to introduce cotton agriculture to Togo. For Zimmerman, this shows not so much a desire to "improve" African lives, but an attempt to make them more amenable for exploitation. Transitioning from cotton meant that Togo would be profitable in the global economy (and for Germans). Such a labor regime was not necessarily beneficial to Africans, who previously had been exporting Palm Oil and engaged in their local economies. The schools and training provided by the Tuskegee Institute sought to transform Togolese society from polygamous/matriarchal into monogamous, patriarchal households. Tuskegee complicit in this "improvement" process. Ultimately, in postemancipation world, desire by former colonizers to keep Negroes as underclass in a new guise a new way to keep an old system of exploitation. Germans inaugurate a new approach to this whereby the American Negro becomes the "ideal Negro," a model for the rest of the world. Interestingly, many African-Americans buy into this approach, assuming the role as the group of people best suited to educate the "shadow people" of Africa. Great book which shows the state of the diaspora between 1880-1915.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike Emett

    Required reading for the "History and Theory" graduate seminar. Required reading for the "History and Theory" graduate seminar.

  5. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    An excellent and radical transnational history of New South projections into Africa. Booker T Washington sent members of his Tuskegee Institute to attempt and institutionalize southern cotton-growing and labor practices in German colonial Togo at the turn of the 20th century. New South, post-Reconstruction systems of black labor were transplanted there creating a tipping point for the formation of the global South. A weird intersection of black elitist thinkers who placed emphasis on menial labo An excellent and radical transnational history of New South projections into Africa. Booker T Washington sent members of his Tuskegee Institute to attempt and institutionalize southern cotton-growing and labor practices in German colonial Togo at the turn of the 20th century. New South, post-Reconstruction systems of black labor were transplanted there creating a tipping point for the formation of the global South. A weird intersection of black elitist thinkers who placed emphasis on menial labor with German social thinkers who treated Poles as a separate race and who espoused notions of racial superiority. I'm simplifying but you get the general picture. Lots of good stuff here and many fascinating interstices to explore.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brandy

    Incredible transnational history on a very unknown (or at least un-talked about) topic. Seriously considering sending a copy to my undergrad advisor, as this is right up her alley.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kari

    Very fascinating; very sad.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Conor Reid

  9. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael Taylor

  11. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Mize

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael O'Brien

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chet Adams

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kat

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Hill

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nina Thompson

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Cale

  22. 4 out of 5

    Caylin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Vetack

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nick Lockyer

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tanja Bacani

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kenny

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Prazeres

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

  29. 4 out of 5

    funkifiknow

  30. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

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