By Sophie Lorenz (Heidelberg University)
My Ph.D. project “‘Freiheit für Angela Davis’: The German Democratic Republic and Angela Davis, 1965-1989” examines the GDR’s solidarity campaign for Angela Davis understood as part of the “other” transatlantic alliance.
Accused of being an accomplice in a murder case in 1970, Angela Davis was arrested in New York City in October 1970, jailed for over a year, and finally acquitted in June 1972. In the U.S. her imprisonment unleashed the “Free Angela”-campaign which helped to mobilize support for her case throughout the world and particularly in both East and West Germany. Shortly after her arrest a comprehensive nationwide solidarity campaign for Angela Davis emerged in the German Democratic Republic coordinated by the regime and its mass organizations. During this campaign, citizens organized in student and worker groups signed petitions on Davis’s behalf which were sent to President Nixon and the Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. They collected solidarity donations to support the “Free Angela” committees in the U.S., and children painted “sunflowers for Angela Davis” in school.
In 1971 the state-controlled mass organization Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ, Free German Youth) came up with an initiative for one of the most wide-ranging solidarity actions during the campaign entitled “One Million Roses for Angela Davis”. Following this call for solidarity thousands of East German citizens showed their support for Davis by sending their personal solidarity greetings on postcards adorned with roses to Davis in prison. Between November 1970 and June 1972 the solidarity campaign for Davis became an inherent part of East Germans’ everyday life – children, young people, adults alike – thus deeply affecting the East German society. During the 1970s and 1980s Davis continuously visited the GDR as guest of honour on different occasions thereby a special affiliation between the GDR and Davis continued beyond the context of the solidarity campaign of 1970-72.
Because of this comprehensive support for Angela Davis and the special relationship between her and the GDR Davis became an inherent part of East German public memory since the second half of the 1970s. This seems especially true for the collective memory of those born in the GDR between the 1940s to the 1960s. Personal experiences and accounts as well as opinions of contemporary witnesses are therefore an important source for this project. This implies everyone who participated in the solidarity campaigns or rallies for Davis, saw her during one of her visits or even met her personally.
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GDR propaganda film (1972)