♪ >> 1,000 miles away, we were fighting for other people's rights.
>> The Second World War, over a million African-Americans fought for freedom and democracy in an army that was strictly segregated by race -- separate dining halls, separate units, even separate blood banks.
>> I was fast becoming an angry young black soldier.
>> After the war, about 150,000 of these G.I.s stood among the ruins of Nazi Germany as part of the American occupying forces.
But in defeated Germany, they would discover a new way of life.
[ Jazz music playing ] >> The first thing I saw was this beautiful lady sitting over there, and I couldn't take my eyes off her.
>> And I saw Harold and I said, "Oh, he's kind of cute.
He looks like Sidney Poitier."
[ Laughs ] >> Personal experience that would change history.
>> It did show me and I believe all African-American soldiers who were in Germany that, you know, people of both races could live together.
[ Dogs barking ] >> After liberating Germany, they were now fighting for their own freedom.
>> Every black person of my generation was involved in civil rights.
>> I have a dream today.
[ Cheers and applause ] >> When I first went to Germany, in January of 1959, I had just finished my training in Columbus, Georgia, at Fort Benning.
[ Indistinct shouting ] And in Columbus, Georgia, it was still segregated.
There was discrimination.
There was racism.
For me, as a young lieutenant who couldn't go off the post in Columbus, Georgia, can go off the post anywhere in Germany, it was a breath of freedom.
>> Jackson, Mississippi.
On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, the most important civil-rights activist in Mississippi, is returning home from a meeting to his wife and three young children.
[ Gunshot ] He's ambushed in his own driveway and murdered.
>> Here is, in some ways, the most visible African-American leader in Mississippi, gunned down by a white supremacist, who was also a World War II veteran, like Medgar Evers.
People came home from World War II with conflicting visions of what America should be.
>> As a decorated soldier of World War II, Medgar Evers is buried with military honors at the National Cemetery in Arlington.
For his brother Charles Evers, the loss is almost unbearable.
As boys, they had always been close.
50 years after the murder of Medgar Evers, Congressman John Lewis paid tribute to the victims of the common struggle.
>> The memorial remembers 40 persons who died during the struggle -- people like Medgar Evers, who died so that all of us could enjoy the right to vote.
>> To go and serve, serving your -- then come back and die in your yard, you -- It's amazing to me that you live, you survive the war, then you come home, and you're shot and killed.
>> As a young civil-rights activist, John Lewis very often risked his life for the struggle, at times side by side with veterans.
>> These black veterans identified with the Civil Rights Movement and became a part of it.
They felt that they had gone abroad fighting for democracy and equality, and now we have to come back home and fight again.
And they did fight.
>> I saw what hate can do, the damage it's done to all of us, white and black, when you live in a society where you have exclusion.
>> Leon Bass, from Philadelphia, has lived the long road from the battlefields of World War II to the election of the first African-American president of the United States.
>> 1943, I decided to join the Army.
We were sent down into the Deep South for our basic training.
[ Train wheels squeaking ] >> At the time Leon Bass joined the Army, over 70% of African-Americans still lived in the Southern states.
Racial segregation, the so-called Jim Crow laws, affect every aspect of life.
>> I go to board the bus, I look up, I read the sign, the sign says that colored must be seated at the back of the bus.
I go back there, but all the seats were taken.
And so on that day, I stood up for more than 100 miles and I looked at the empty seats in the front of the bus that I was not permitted to occupy.
It's a damnable experience to have when you're just 18 and you volunteered to serve your country.
[ Bell dinging ] >> On arrival, Joseph Hairston also became familiar with the Jim Crow laws.
For Joseph Hairston, arriving in the South from Pennsylvania was a rude awakening.
>> Standing up there by the train station was a couple of white crackers, and one said to the other as we got off the train -- there were about 8 or 9 of us -- "That looks like a bunch of goddamn northern niggers.
We're going to have to teach him how to act down here."
That was my introduction to the South.
And I've learned the hard way, you had to be subservient.
For example, if you walk down the street, you should not look at a white woman.
If you pass her, you should step off the curb, but never look directly at a white woman.
If a white person spoke to you, they referred to you as "boy."
Your answers had to be properly subservient.
I mean, "Yes, sir."
Then I became aware of the Ku Klux Klan and the fact that you could become strange fruit hanging from a tree.
>> 5,000 miles away, in Germany, the Nazis had, meanwhile, elevated racial hatred to a state ideology.
The Aryans regarded themselves as the master race.
Jews and other minorities were considered subhuman.
In 1939, in the fanatical delusion of creating a world empire for a superior race, Adolf Hitler launched the Second World War.
By the time the U.S. entered the war two years later, nearly all of continental Europe was in Hitler's grasp.
In the east, the armed forces of Nazi Germany pushed deep into the Soviet Union.
In the west, they occupied France.
Hitler at the Eiffel Tower at the pinnacle of his power.
>> Put your foot in there.
>> This is the enemy African-American soldiers would confront.
The military opened up possibilities for blacks that they never had in civilian life.
During World War II, the Army was the biggest employer for blacks.
>> Completely stripped of everything into that bag.
>> But racism and racial segregation held sway in the Army, too.
>> There's no service here, you understand?
>> Roscoe Brown would become a legendary fighter pilot.
But he, too, was confronted with racism during his training.
>> The United States military actually had done a study in 1925 that concluded that blacks didn't have the intelligence, the skill, the leadership ability to be pilots or to be leaders.
So, as a result of that, the black community pressured the president to say, "Give blacks a chance to fly."
And because of that, he authorized the creation, over the objections of the military, of an experimental group now collectively called the Tuskegee Airmen.
>> Tuskegee, Alabama, was the training base for this elite unit.
All black pilots designated for combat, not just support roles.
>> We went to Tuskegee, where there's a university where the military had actually built a separate air base just to train blacks.
So, the segregation was so silly and stupid that they would spend money to build a separate air base to keep blacks separate from whites.
>> Despite the formal separation, clashes between white and black soldiers were common.
>> On this one occasion, the -- one of the soldiers was drunk and disorderly.
Several black MPs took him into custody, but then some white MPs showed up and took the prisoner from the black MPs.
And the group saw this, and they just beat up the white MPs and drove them out.
Now this mob is exuberant.
I mean, hey, they got rid of these white people.
And then next showed up was the MPs with a group of armed white policemen with shotguns.
One white policeman pushed me in the chest out of the way, around the corner, and said, "Get out of my way, nigger."
And a few minutes later, opened point-blank fire into the group.
To this day, I have never seen an official report of what I saw.
>> Many African-Americans hoped that fighting for their country abroad would finally gain them full equality at home.
>> We had a session in the military.
The lieutenant who was in charge of my platoon, he said, "We're talking about why we're fighting this war."
I answered this question.
I said, "We're fighting this war against the enemy overseas so we can preserve our rights and privileges as American citizens.
But I'm fighting this war back home because I don't have those rights and citizenship back here in the U.S.A." Ooh!
All my friends got very quiet.
He turned a little bit red.
But then he said, "Private Bass, I'm from Georgia."
I said, "Yes, sir."
"Private Bass, when you're in Rome, you do as Romans do."
And I looked him straight in the eye and I said, "Sir, I'm an American and I'm living in America and I'm going to do as Americans do."
>> Yet, in Germany, racism had reached a dimension that was unfathomable, even for African-Americans.
Jews and other minorities were deported to concentration and extermination camps.
Most would never be seen again.
But there were also blacks like Theodor Michael living in Hitler's Germany as foreigners in their own country.
Though born in Germany, under the Nuremberg Laws, they were deprived of their civil rights and citizenship.
Under those conditions, it was almost impossible to find work.
>> Afro-Germans did not get any jobs.
The general feeling was, Afro-Germans are taking away jobs from good Germans.
So what options did we have then?
In this situation, colonial films played an important role, because they were the only source of income we still had.
>> [ Speaking German ] >> Many German blacks survived in the unlikeliest of places -- the Nazi Dream Factory as extras in what were called colonial films.
These were aimed at rousing Germans to win back the colonial empire they had lost after World War I.
The film studios offered them refuge, at least temporarily, from the racist reality of Nazi Germany.
>> The film studios were an artificial world.
The real world was that of daily racism.
I desperately tried to avoid all behavior that could cause you to be deported to a concentration camp.
Almost no people of color who were sent there survived.
>> Theodor Michael survived the Nazi years in the service of racist propaganda.
In the famous film "Muenchhausen," he played the servant who fanned the Sultan.
>> The aim of these films was to depict the inferiority of other races to white people.
>> When African-American G.I.s went to Europe, most had no idea of the extent of German racism.
>> My unit went on across the Atlantic Ocean to England.
>> Brothers Charles and Medgar Evers also joined the ranks, but their ways parted.
Charles fought in the Pacific, Medgar in Europe.
[ Explosions, gunfire ] On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy against the fierce resistance of the German troops, D-Day.
>> We got to shore and we lay down in the sand because we were dog-tired.
>> One of those who took Omaha Beach that day was Jon Hendricks, later to become a famous jazz musician.
>> We kept marching for 18 miles, when we saw a French farm, and we walked over to it and we knocked on the door, and the woman came to the door.
I said, "Nous sommes Américain."
"We are Americans."
She says, "Oh-la-la!
And she could speak English.
And so she went and got her husband, and he says, "Ah!
I have something for you, too."
And he went out into the barn and he dug up some champagne and he opened up this mud-covered bottle of champagne.
And we went back to the house and drank it.
And they were weeping.
They wept because I told them, "There's many more of us down on the beach."
>> The Allies pushed back the troops of Nazi Germany along the Western Front.
The number of African-American troops in Europe rose to 260,000 from 150,000.
But fewer than 9% belonged to combat units.
The rest were in labor, supply, and backup units, where there were no risk of blacks becoming war heroes.
Lieutenant Walter Patrice commanded one of these units.
>> For General Patton, the tanks needed gas -- and a lot of gas.
And to get the gas to him was our primary job.
And one day, he came through on a flatcar and he stopped.
The flatcar stopped, and he said, "Lieutenant, keep up the good work."
And I said, "Thank you, General."
And he took off.
>> Medgar Evers was also serving in a supply unit.
>> Medgar Evers was part of the Red Ball Express.
The Red Ball Express was basically a supply unit of trucks driven by African-Americans whose job it was to bring supplies to the front.
But what happened is that the Red Ball Express was so good that they would actually bring the supplies into the combat zone.
And so there are many stories of these soldiers coming under fire, of these soldiers hitting land mines.
So Medgar Evers was part of a unit that, while it went down in history as a service unit, really was a combat-tested unit.
>> Finally, the orders came down and said our unit, the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, would be attached to the Third Army under the leadership of General George Patton.
We were going to be sent up into Belgium.
>> It was there that General Patton's advance ground to a halt.
In the winter of 1944 came the German counteroffensive, Battle of the Bulge, under the command of General von Rundstedt.
>> He's one of Hitler's greatest generals.
That thing that he did was remarkable.
He actually broke through our lines and got within 18 miles of Liège, where all the supply lines came together.
He gets rid of that, he's got no enemy.
And he damn near did it.
>> Faced with a crisis, the U.S. commanders had no choice but to break the rule of strict segregation.
The 761st Armed Division, the Black Panthers, was pitched into battle.
For the first time in the war, black soldiers could actively engage in combat side by side with white soldiers.
Thousands of African-Americans volunteered for these integrated units.
>> We got permission this time because they had no one else to depend on.
>> Some black soldiers saw this emergency situation as a turning point for equal rights in the Army.
>> Once we did integrate, it was amazing how easy it happened.
I think it happened that easy because this never should have been.
I think the white soldiers felt that, too.
Why in the world should we be fighting against each other when we had a very potent enemy that we had to face?
I think it was stupid.
>> Battling a freezing winter and bottled up in the town of Bastogne, U.S. troops faced a crucial moment.
Black soldiers like Leon Bass plunged into the fray and showed their mettle.
>> Our responsibility was to rebuild a bridge.
The bridge was right there near Bastogne, where our troops were encircled.
We worked night and day.
We finally put that bridge up, and all of those resources -- the tanks, the guns, the men, whatever -- all of those things crossed the bridge and went in and joined up with all of the men who were there inside of Bastogne.
And in so doing, we were able to help them defeat the enemy.
And that was a wonderful experience, I can tell you that.
I was just 19 years of age.
>> Both on the German and Allied side, the Battle of the Bulge claimed around 20,000.
>> I was riding a jeep.
And I don't know how I got off the main road, but I ended up at a military cemetery.
The Grave Registration Department was at work burying dead soldiers.
And it's the first time I could ever feel tears running down my cheeks.
From the vanishing point in three directions, here were guys being buried.
Never had a shot at life.
What I felt was just the insanity of warfare.
I think it stinks.
>> I remember seeing these trucks go by one day.
I was standing alongside the road in the snow and I watched them.
But these were registration -- Grave Registration trucks with the bodies of the American soldiers coming back down out of Bastogne.
And I looked at that and I said to myself, "Leon, what are you doing here?
What are you doing in this place?
What are you fighting for?"
And I began to be angry, because I remembered something.
I remembered I couldn't get that drink of water back home at a public water fountain.
I couldn't get a meal in a restaurant and I couldn't get a seat on a bus.
I was fast becoming an angry young black soldier, angry at my country because I felt my country was using me.
But we won that Battle of the Bulge and then we went into Germany.
We crossed the Rhine River.
>> Soon after this victory, the U.S. Army reverted to its practice of racial segregation.
Robbed of the freedoms they had only just won, these soldiers were pitched into the final battle for Germany.
From Italy, the Tuskegee Airmen flew sorties over Germany.
Among them was Roscoe Brown.
>> Our job was to escort the bombers, protecting them from the enemy fighters.
And in battle, there may be over 300 bombers stretching over about 30 miles in the air.
[ Air-raid siren wailing ] >> As a child, Ingrid Linton experienced the air raids in the German capital, Berlin.
>> Every night, we had to get up, my sister and I.
We were little kids.
We had to get dressed, go into the cellar.
It was dramatic.
And even to this day, when I hear especially a German police car go by, I think about the air-raid siren and I do like that.
>> As we came over the outskirts of Berlin, we were attacked, and then the fighter planes would be swarming around, up and down.
But when the enemy attacked, then you tried to shoot the enemy down.
And then there would be what they call a dogfight, where he's turning here, you try to turn here, he goes down, you go down, you follow him up.
And when I saw the jet planes coming up from about 8 o'clock, I turned my plane upside down and went under the bombers.
Bombers were here.
I went under the bombers.
The enemy was coming up here.
And I turned into his blind spot and I used my electronic gunsight to get the lead to be over him and I shot him right in the middle, and he bailed out.
>> What's largely unknown is that propaganda here suggested it was blacks who were flying these missions and killing German women and children.
And I was once thrown out of a bomb shelter.
They said, "They're your friends up there bombing us.
So get yourself out of here."
>> There was nothing to eat, of course.
Then there were horses shot, and people went out to cut pieces of the horse and we ate some.
>> Here in the war's final phase, the full horror of Nazi crimes was brought to light.
>> On this day in April in 1945, I was going to have the shock of my life, because I was going to walk through the gates of a concentration camp called Buchenwald.
And, really, you've got to believe me.
I wasn't ready for that.
And I saw the dead bodies stacked up outside.
And these were bodies that were adjacent to the crematorium.
So I went inside the crematorium and I saw what was left of someone who had been placed there.
I saw the blackened skull.
I saw the rib cage.
I saw all the ashes.
I walked back to the gate where we came in and I stood there waiting for my friends to come.
But while I waited, I began to realize that I was not the same anymore.
Something had happened to me.
I was an angry young black soldier when I came into that camp and I was wondering why I was fighting this war, but now this transformation had taken place.
Something had changed me, and I realized human suffering is not relegated to just me.
>> A few days later, the U.S. military commander forced the people of Weimar to go see for themselves the horror perpetrated in their neighborhood.
Had they really not noticed anything?
Many of them had embraced the ideology of racial fanaticism, which had cost millions of human lives and laid waste to their own country.
Germany was defeated.
From 1945 to 1949, the country was occupied and administered by the victorious powers.
In the American occupation zone, this task was performed by an army that still practiced racial segregation.
Part of their job was to expunge Nazism from Germany.
Black soldiers hardly knew liberty themselves, but suddenly had a new role as liberators.
>> Hitler out.
Concentration camps empty.
The problem now is future peace.
That is your job in Germany.
By your conduct and attitude while on guard inside Germany, you can lay the groundwork of a peace that could last forever.
Or just the opposite.
You are soldiers on guard.
You will not be friendly.
You will be aloof, watchful, and suspicious.
That is your job in Germany.
>> The job that created inner turmoil for Milton Johnson.
On his posting abroad, he met his future wife, Charlotte.
Today, as they prepare to leave their home to move in with their daughter, memories of many years in Germany and Austria come flooding back.
>> The Army told me that I was going overseas and I was representing the United States of America And everything was negative that they had to say and told me about the Germans.
I couldn't represent this country in my own country, so how can I represent the country over there?
This was a little confusing to me.
I was born in Columbia, Tennessee, a small town.
My parents were sharecroppers.
Can you imagine?
With no shoes on, let's say in March, you go out and plow the fields and you walk around behind the mule with a plow and your feet's frozen almost because you have no shoes or socks on.
And the mule relieved itself, and you stand in it because the urinate is warm and that warmed your feet up.
Can you imagine that?
You work for nothing.
You took all kind of great abuse.
You had no rights.
When you have no rights, it's a different world.
I had a responsibility to myself.
When I left the farm, I wasn't going back to be a damn sharecropper.
The Army gave me the opportunity.
I arrived in Europe in the spring of '46, arrived in Germany.
Everything was just about destroyed.
People was begging for cigarettes, but there was nowhere to go.
Everything was bombed out.
>> The Nazi ideology did not vanish overnight from the minds of the Germans.
The reaction toward their victors?
Many saw them as conquerors and occupiers.
Others, though, welcomed them as liberators from dictatorship, like the young prisoner of war and future satirist Dieter Hildebrandt.
>> We came into the prison camp in Gardelegen and were kept in fenced pens.
The first person to stroll by was a smoking black G.I.
Then some white Americans walked by and played this game of only smoking their cigarettes halfway and then tossing them.
And we couldn't pick up the butts and thought, "You bastards."
The only one not to do that was the black soldier.
That was our first impression.
What was part of his nature, I believe, was a sense of fairness.
>> The image of the American G.I.
sharing his food rations with starving Germans left a deep impression on the collective memory.
>> First of all, the Americans were victors.
The African-Americans, as well.
Secondly, they had food and they shared it.
>> Those were defining moments for both sides.
Future judge Charles Johnson recalls the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.
>> And we were walking down the street, and one of the German mothers with a child, maybe 4 years old -- she came up to me and just looked at me.
So, eventually, she took my hand and did like this to see if the black would rub off of it.
[ Laughs ] It was so cute to see.
I don't believe she'd ever seen an African-American before.
>> My father was a Nazi, and I grew up as a Nazi child.
The funny thing is that, even as a little child, I used to have a black doll.
That was Gerda, my beloved doll.
I always liked things that were darker than white.
So, I saw some black people on the Strassenbahn.
and I thought, "Yay!
Nice brown people.
Finally," you know.
>> You can't experience anything worse than what the Germans had experienced in that defeat.
And so while they were trying to pull themselves up, black soldiers were trying to pull themselves up from battling segregation.
And maybe that kind of helped to bond us and bind us together.
>> Because they were oppressed within their army, they were more like us.
They tended to identify with the defeated, and a feeling of empathy developed between us.
>> A U.S. Army survey revealed that 70% of Germans after the war preferred the African-American occupation troops to the whites.
>> The Germans was experiencing hard times at that time, just like the blacks was experiencing a hard time.
So it was basically we got along with each other.
>> To some, Germany seemed a model of tolerance.
The truth was more complicated.
>> The Nazis had mysteriously disappeared overnight, as if they had never existed.
I witnessed some denazification trials.
It was shameful, almost unbearable to see them whining and claiming they had never been part of and never known anything of the atrocities.
The Americans were disgusted.
>> German racism still existed, but under cover.
Like, "I have nothing against blacks.
I just do not want them to come to my favorite neighborhood bar."
After the end of the war, I had just one wish -- to get away from all the destruction, to get away from misery and away from racism.
America radiated hope.
[ Beeping ] [ Ricky Nelson's "It's Up to You" plays ] >> Along with the American soldiers, American culture arrived in Germany.
>> ♪ It's up ♪ >> ♪ It's up ♪ >> We listened to AFN every day from morning to night and danced to it whenever we could.
I only learned about the so-called black voices once they were here.
I went to concerts in the Munich congress hall and heard Ella Fitzgerald.
In the audience, there were soldiers who were still occupation troops.
That music, I believe, was the best re-education we could have.
>> [ Scatting ] >> For many Germans, the U.S. Army at the time was the only source of employment.
Dieter Hildebrandt earned his money as a stock clerk in a U.S. Army store.
>> [ Scatting continues ] >> He also spent his free time with Americans.
>> You'd go into the bars, and there they were.
They had 3 or 4 bars in the military compound, and there was always a German band playing jazz and swing.
>> Jazz, chewing gum, and Lucky Strike cigarettes were everywhere, but so was the distinctly American form of Jim Crow racism.
>> I had my own encounters with the MPs, the military police.
When they cleared a bar because it was closing time, MP time, they immediately had their nightsticks out when there were blacks in the bar.
I saw one incident with a black G.I.
who probably was drunk and talked back.
The MP hit him and knocked him to the floor.
>> Theodor Michael was working for the Americans at the time as a translator.
>> I saw how it was with the brawls between the white and black soldiers.
Whole barrack blocks pitching in and fighting each other.
That was commonplace at that time.
America was no longer the promised land I wanted to live in.
>> Some white U.S. soldiers were also critical of the racial conflict.
One was David Brion Davis, then an 18-year-old member of the security police.
>> These are letters I wrote to my parents from Mannheim.
I'd been there since late 1945.
"I'm getting quite bitter on this race question.
Our armies were to teach all Europe democracy and decent living, yet in the Army, the race problem is magnified a thousand times.
What are people to think of a "son of liberty" who takes every possible chance to kill or hurt a Negro from his home state or town?
>> These letters are an extraordinary documentation of the times because the newspapers were not writing about these conflicts.
>> Everything that German newspapers printed was censored.
There were no anti-American articles.
They'd never have gotten through.
The Germans were actually told, "Stay out of it.
You have absolutely no right to talk about racial hatred, you of all people."
And that was, of course, correct.
>> Under conditions like this, African-American soldiers felt they were being treated better by the former enemy than by their white colleagues.
>> My dad was one of those G.I.s He was in the army of occupation in Germany.
So, you go into an environment in Europe and you're still being discriminated against by many of your white soldiers.
You're serving in segregated units, but suddenly now, you're meeting people who are treating you as equal.
And so what it does is, it helps people realize that the situation in America could be changed.
And that simple spark that there's a possibility of a new America is what many of these soldiers brought home.
It's really people like Medgar Evers who start at the local level and begin to say, "It's our responsibility to effect change."
He went from a war zone in Europe to a war zone in Mississippi.
>> While African-Americans in the States took up the battle against segregation, those in Germany were about to be plunged back into conflict.
In 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access to West Berlin, cutting the city off from all supplies.
This conflict would change German-American relations forever.
>> There was hardly any food left.
I was very, very hungry.
I was a teenager.
I remember that my mother divided the bread in days.
We could only eat this much.
>> The Western allies, led by the U.S., uncompromisingly supported their former enemy.
The famous candy bombers supplied the "island of West Berlin" from the air for almost a year.
>> The children that lived in Tempelhof always got candies because the pilots threw down candy.
I lived in Charlottenburg, which was far away, so I never got candy.
That's, I think, where the Berliners grew to like the American more than anybody else, because they helped us.
They made us survive.
>> And some G.I.s found true happiness abroad.
The Thompsons and the Johnsons are two typical military families.
The men were career soldiers and met their future wives during deployments abroad at a time when liaisons between blacks and whites would have been impossible back home.
>> This is when I met my husband.
That's why I fell in love with him -- very handsome.
And that's me down there.
>> The families are bound together by many shared memories of a time of unimagined freedoms.
>> We docked up in -- >> Bremerhaven.
>> Yeah, Bre-- It was all bombed out.
>> I docked in Hamburg.
It was all bombed out.
>> Do you think, on any level, the glow of you folks being different made Germans more interested in you than they would have white Americans?
Because if you look at a white American, you know, okay -- >> Yeah, that was part of it.
>> I was going with my bicycle to work, and he used to pass me every morning in the bus.
>> He used to look for me, and I looked for him just on the bus.
And one day, he surprised me.
He got off the bus to meet me.
That's the whole story.
After he got off the bus and we talked, that melted my heart.
>> Tell the truth.
>> Tell the truth what?
>> You wanted to see the tail.
>> Oh, stop.
[ Laughter ] >> That's what they said in Germany, that the colored man had a tail that comes out at midnight at night.
>> Yeah, that was an old stupid story.
>> But that's what they said.
You heard it, too, right?
>> Yeah, sure.
>> The white G.I.s would always tell the girls, "All the colored soldiers have tails.
And at night, the tails come out," you know?
>> "Yeah, we've got a tail.
At 12:00, come and he'll show it to you."
[ Laughing ] You know?
>> Black magazines like Ebony published long articles on the friendly reception Germans were giving to African-American soldiers.
Germany appeared an attractive deployment for black recruits like Charles Johnson, who later became an important civil-rights activist and judge.
>> I was excited about going to Germany.
I was a history major, basically, in college and I wanted to learn more and more about what was going on in Germany.
>> In 1948, Charles Johnson was posted to Nuremberg, where he taught African-American soldiers in a military school.
Like other soldiers, he found that the key to unlocking Germany was to have a German girlfriend.
>> I traveled a lot and I was fortunate.
The young lady that I knew was -- could direct me.
And I saw a lot of different culture things.
I went to Garmisch.
I went to Berchtesgaden.
I went to see the passion play that they put on every 10 years in Oberammergau, yeah.
And we did go see the Ludwig Castle.
I went up in the Bavarian Alps.
It opened up, for me, a new world.
♪ >> Even if they didn't like to see African-American G.I.s with frauleins, the defeated Germans usually didn't express their displeasure openly.
>> A group of us, 6 or 8 of us, went to a German -- kind of a German resort.
We all, each one of us, had a girlfriend, and we went there and kind of took over the place.
But there was a lot of resentment in that little community where this resort was that see these black soldiers with these white girls.
And we were there about three days, and you could tell that a lot of people didn't appreciate it, but they didn't bother us.
Well, in Germany, you could go into any establish whether they wanted you to come in or not, and they would have to serve you.
And when you had the uniform on, you had special privileges in Germany because you were a United States soldier.
And one of the things that happened in Germany was, for me, individually, and I think for African-American soldiers is that you could move about, you could go into restaurants, you could go into any facility as an African-American and not feel segregated or discriminated against.
[ Jazz music playing ] >> Jazz.
German girls really loved the black soldier because they taught them how to call jitterbug.
You know, throw the girl out and bring her back in and spin around.
Hey, man, I was one of the king jitterbugs.
I was one of the king dancers.
I could pick a girl up and throw her up in the air and catch her before she hit the floor.
Throw her over my back and all like that, you know, and spin her around and around and bring her back.
And jazz was just my thing, man.
I love it.
♪ >> You have stories of interracial couples being able to experience a freedom that was unheard of in the United States.
Some was love, but the realization that most people had was that you couldn't bring that back to the States, that in almost every state in the union, interracial marriages were still illegal.
[ Bell tolling ] >> Women left behind by their black lovers had a hard time in Germany, especially if the liaison produced a brown baby like Elvira Rypacek.
>> Interpreter: There were three of us in the village, two girls and a boy.
>> Their fathers had arrived as unassailable victors.
But these brown babies were an easy target for racism.
>> [ Speaking German ] >> Interpreter: I remember boys at school always shouting nasty things like "nigger."
My mother never spoke to me about my father.
Whenever I tried to talk about my father when I was older, my mom immediately changed the subject.
>> These women often faced rejection by fellow Germans, including even the charge of prostitution.
In the media, they were depicted as deviants.
>> Interpreter: Half a year before she died, she gave me an envelope containing a photo of my father.
That was the first time I'd seen what he looked like.
♪ >> The brown babies were also a topic for members of the German parliament.
Some of these children will be adopted in the U.S. and lose their connection to their German roots.
♪ ♪ Others, like Elvira Rypacek, would grow up German but never know their biological fathers.
Even as a child, she had dreamed of finding her father in great big America.
In September 2012, she finally tracked him down.
♪ After all the sacrifices they had made overseas and all the liberating experiences of war and occupation, soldiers had returned home in a spirit of optimism about changing their own country.
>> At the end of the war, the airlines were hiring pilots and they were hiring World War II pilots.
That's where most of the pilots came from.
I filled out my application with my honors and number of flying hours, and I turned it in and I left to leave.
And I realized I had left my newspaper.
So I went back to get my newspaper, and when I went back to the newspaper, the secretary was throwing my application in the wastebasket, and her face got red, and she said, "We don't hire Negroes here."
[ Train whistle blows ] ♪ ♪ >> So the Civil Rights Movement was a combination of a lot of things.
The frustration of the veterans coming home, not being received well.
Those who served overseas in post-World War II had the experience of living in a country where there was not racial segregation.
The Civil Rights Movement was really triggered by the fact that this silly, inhumane segregation denies us the full fruits of our ability, and that's what motivated us.
>> Change came gradually.
And in 1948, President Truman needed the African-American vote to become re-elected.
Veterans and civil-rights activists demanded an end to racial segregation in the armed forces.
Racism and segregation were rapidly becoming an embarrassment for America and its postwar position as a global superpower.
Historian David Brion Davis, who was an 18-year-old soldier in the occupying army, remembers how racism became a focal point in the ideological conflict with the Soviet Union.
>> The Russians had a terrific argument in the sense that they could attack us for our racism and persecution of blacks.
And that was a very major part of their propaganda.
I mean, we were in Germany to help democratize or teach the Germans democracy, and yet we brought to Germany a segregated army, a racist army.
The very fact that the nation that's supposed to be representing democracy has a segregated army makes it a kind of a microcosm of the situation in the United States that brought on the civil-rights movement.
>> Harry Truman became the first president to address the leading civil-rights organization, the NAACP.
5,000 veterans were on hand to hear a message they had fought long and hard for.
[ Applause ] [ Applause ] Truman issued an executive order that ended racial segregation in the military.
Even though desegregation would still take many years to achieve, this remains an early, meaningful chapter in the Civil Rights Movement that was partly written in Germany.
It paved the way for careers like that of a young, recently promoted lieutenant whose first deployment abroad was in Germany -- Colin Powell.
>> It was a long struggle, but no institution did more to demonstrate the fallacy of racism than the United States armed forces.
We were the most socially progressive institution in America.
I arrived in Gelnhausen, east of Frankfurt, in January of 1959, and you have to consider where we were in the United States at that point.
In the late '50s, we had seen the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King.
>> We do what is right as a nation on the one hand, and yet on the other hand, we have those forces that are against democracy.
>> While we were putting troops in Germany to guard against the Russians, President Eisenhower had to put troops into several cities in America to guard against racism against students.
So even then, in the '50s, while we were struggling, we were in many ways better off when we were stationed in Germany.
I'll never forget one cold, cold winter day out in the forest to the west of Fulda.
We woke up.
I'm just a 22-year-old, 21-year-old lieutenant, and there was a local farmhouse and the lady of the house came out with hot cafe and broetchen for the soldiers.
And she said, "We're so glad you're here."
And we drank the coffee and ate the bread.
And so my experience in Germany was, you know, "Hopefully Columbus, Georgia, in a few years will be like Gelnhausen."
>> African-American G.I.s, once confined to service roles, were now represented in all military units.
Even among the officer's ranks.
[ Up-tempo rock music plays ] ♪ >> My best recollection of the German population was glad we were there because there was another part of the context that you have to keep in mind -- the Cold War.
♪ >> As the Cold War heated up, Colin Powell stood at the front line of a conflict that could escalate at any time.
♪ >> And the people of Germany knew that the Russian army was just on the other side of the Fulda Gap, which was my battle position.
We had the narrowest part of the NATO front.
If they got through, they were at the bridges over the Rhine, and Germany would be cut in half.
>> Politics affected personal relationships between G.I.s and Germans, especially in divided Berlin.
>> I got to Berlin I think on August, August the 26th of 1960.
And I met Ingrid on September the 2nd, 1960.
So I wasn't there almost a little over a week.
And I saw Ingrid for the first time.
>> Today, Ingrid and Harold Linton live in Arizona.
But Berlin remains their home away from home.
>> I was in the intelligence field, right, as a linguist.
We were trying to make sure that we could maintain freedom not only for the Germans, but for the Americans as well too.
>> And that's why Harold thought for the longest time when we started dating that I was a spy.
And I have a funny remembrance.
I had a Boxer dog and I walked the Boxer dog in the Grunewald in Berlin, and I wanted Harold to walk with me.
And he wouldn't go into the woods with me.
And I couldn't figure out, you know -- I didn't know that he thought I was a spy.
>> You would get these professional indoctrinations every day about "be careful who you meet, who you talk to, and especially pretty girls who are very nice to you."
[ Chuckles ] So against that background, I meet -- six days later, I meet a very pretty girl in Berlin, and all this stuff is going through my head.
>> So finally he walked with me, and I guess he realized I was not a spy.
When I met Harold, and I tried to introduce him to my family, my father didn't even want to talk to him.
He didn't even want to look at him.
>> And I tried my few words of German.
And I tried to be as polite and respectful as I could.
>> And my father, to him, that was no, no way that his daughter would marry a black guy, no.
>> Their German-American love story was rudely interrupted by a sudden crisis.
August 13, 1961.
The communist government of East Germany tried to stop the exodus of its citizens to the flourishing West by erecting the Berlin Wall.
>> We went there and saw the tanks, and then you saw people climbing over the halfway-built wall.
People jumping out of windows, you know, into the western part.
It was all to us so unreal.
>> My first thought was, "God, I meet the love of my life, I want to marry her, and these guys are going to build a wall and we'll never get out."
Then I thought as it got more serious about it, I thought, "Whoa, wait a minute.
You could die here."
♪ >> The Americans brought in troops over troops into Berlin from Western Germany.
>> American and Russian tanks confront each other at Checkpoint Charlie for 48 hours with permission to fire.
Some African-American soldiers charged with defending the freedom of the Western world far from home experienced mixed feelings.
>> It sounds strange for someone who sits in a tank.
[ Laughs ] Imagine a black soldier sitting in a tank prepared if he's given the order to blow something up.
But now he's endorsing, on the other hand, a nonviolent movement back in his home country.
I mean, think about all the head games that you go through at that point.
♪ ♪ >> Images from back home gave them the impression that a war was raging in their own country.
Racists like the Ku Klux Klan would do anything, no matter how ruthless, to preserve their way of life, an attitude Bob Zellner remembers well.
>> My father grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was a member of the Klan.
When I was in high school, I was recruited by the Klan.
They went to a black area.
And they committed atrocities against black people while I was in the car, and they insisted that I hit a black person with a baseball bat from the car, a passing car, and I refused to do that.
I'm not going to commit an act of violence against an innocent person no matter what color they are.
>> Bob Zellner saw racial segregation as a restriction on his own freedom.
He found role models among civil-rights activists, including veterans like Medgar Evers.
[ Cheers and applause ] >> Those veterans of the military who had -- many of them had served in Europe were mentors of ours.
They taught us survival techniques in Mississippi, in Alabama.
[ Telephone rings ] >> Medgar Evers became the most prominent civil-rights leader in Mississippi.
>> That is like being the most visible target in the place that hated you the most.
[ Ringing continues ] >> Medgar Evers' death would galvanize the Civil Rights Movement.
[ Artillery fires ] G.I.s stationed in Germany followed this violence with growing anger.
>> I had some German friends that were farmers.
You know, at that time, I didn't have a TV.
He did have one downstairs, black and white.
♪ And then in Birmingham, Alabama, the Klan bombed this black church.
♪ And four little girls were killed in there.
And I remember his words when the news came on the German TV.
>> Guten abend.
>> He was shocked.
And I remember his words, what he said in German.
He looked at me and said, "They do this to the kinders?!"
He couldn't believe they'd do that to children.
♪ >> Four little girls were killed.
So this kind of thing was going on in the United States while I'm sitting in Germany, supposedly keeping the world safe for democracy, whatever the hell that means.
>> In the early '60s, Joe McPhee was a member of an Army band and stationed in Germany.
>> African-American G.I.s experienced a segment of life that they were not all that familiar with.
You cannot go home again.
You come home and virtually nothing had changed at home, but you had changed considerably.
♪ ♪ >> Coming home, after the end of World War II that nothing had changed.
My way of life was the same as when I left.
But, you know, there we -- there we were.
I was miles away fighting for other people's rights.
>> I mean, once you have a taste of freedom in any respect, one doesn't want to go back to the way things were.
So it was a movement that was on its way.
There was no stopping it.
♪ >> Every year, civil-rights icon and Congressman John Lewis leads a pilgrimage to the landmarks of the movement.
One of the most important is the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
♪ On March 7, 1965, Lewis led a march for African-American voting rights.
His co-leader that day was a World War II veteran, the sole survivor of a Nazi bombing raid.
20 years earlier, having just returned from the war, Hosea Williams, still in his uniform, tried to get a glass of water at a segregated bus station.
♪ >> This is crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7, 1965, 600 of us crossing the Alabama River.
This is a young man named Hosea Williams, the veteran.
This is a young John Lewis.
A few moments after this picture was taken... ...this is what happened to me.
That Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday.
>> Go home or go to your church.
This march will not continue.
[ Screaming ] ♪ >> I thought I saw death.
I thought I was going to die.
♪ >> People of goodwill, regardless of race, began to ask themselves, "Is that fair?
Is that America?"
♪ ♪ >> In time, through struggle and sacrifice, America did overcome.
Decades of change and healing have passed.
And yet there are still some unfinished stories.
♪ ♪ In September 2012, at the age of 66, Elvira Rypacek met her father, Ross Walker, for the first time.
♪ And she gained a whole new family.
[ Indistinct conversations ] >> That's my mother.
[ Indistinct conversations ] ♪ >> I came to Nuremberg in the later part of '45.
The war was just over.
Your mother, she was a beautiful lady.
♪ >> [ Speaking German ] >> Interpreter: Did you love my mother?
Yes, very much so.
The German girl really loved the black soldier because he taught her how to jitterbug.
♪ I could pick a girl up and throw her up in the air and catch her before she hit the floor.
I left Germany in September 1946 and came back to the United States.
And so I was never able to keep up with her.
And I'm so happy that you came to see about me.
I'm so happy.
I'm so happy.
♪ >> The U.S. Supreme Court finally legalized interracial marriage in 1967.
Charles Johnson had to leave behind his German girlfriend in 1951 to become a lawyer and then a judge.
>> I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
So I knew I had to leave Germany and I hated to leave.
But I knew if I was going to follow my dreams, I would have to leave.
My girlfriend would have married me and come to the United States had I married her.
I knew that wasn't going to happen.
There was no way I could come back to the United States with a white person as a wife.
That was totally out of the question with what I had in mind for my life, which was to come back and go to law school.
♪ ♪ >> For three decades, Charles Johnson fought for civil rights as an NAACP leader, lawyer and judge.
>> I would say a third of the members of our local NAACP were veterans.
And I think they did it because they were like me.
They saw that there was a better life that African-Americans could have.
I was chair of the National Legal Committee of the NAACP, and here was an opportunity for me as a lawyer now to contribute by trying to open up this country in a civil-rights area for the next generation of people who were coming along so they would not have to experience what I had experienced.
♪ ♪ >> The fight for civil rights has been long and hard.
But one moment of triumph shines above the rest.
The March on Washington.
♪ John Lewis was one of the organizers of the march and is the last surviving speaker from that historic day.
The marchers included many veterans whose grit and experience were instrumental to the cause.
>> You had many, many veterans, many of the soldiers that served in Germany after the war.
They didn't see the same stain of racism and division that they felt when they came back to America.
It had a profound impact.
They came back ready to serve, ready to lead.
And many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were veterans.
They were soldiers.
They knew how to help organize.
They knew something about military discipline.
♪ >> Joseph Hairston was a security official on the March on Washington.
>> How do you organize if you've got potentially thousands of people with troublemakers who are going to try to start a fight or something to discredit you?
And we ended up using a regimental arrangement.
Platoons, companies, battalions, regiment.
Our plan was that if something happened at the lowest level, you would surround them, not fight, just surround them and then talking up, it'll get to me.
I talked to the deputy chief.
The deputy chief has the police who are stationed around.
When Martin Luther King made his famous speech, if the camera had panned up, I was on top of the Lincoln Memorial because there with the radio, I can see and control everybody.
>> I have a dream today.
[ Cheers and applause ] >> One day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
>> I was standing on the right side of the podium under these trees, and I could actually move out and see Martin Luther King giving the "I Have a Dream" speech.
That was one of the highlights of my life.
>> Because I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
[ Cheers and applause ] >> He raised his voice and he said, "I have a dream."
And I looked up and he said, "I have a dream that one day people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
♪ ♪ ♪ >> It's an irony of history that some seeds of the American Civil Rights Movement took root in the ruins of Nazi Germany.
They bore fruit in the strength and resolve of veterans who returned home to continue the struggle and laid the groundwork for change that Americans could believe in.
♪ >> In my lifetime, I never thought that I would live to see an African-American president.
Some of us have worked very hard over all the years to raise the level of African-Americans in the United States, and then to see it reach that point, a point we didn't dream would happen in our lifetime was more than you could almost stand.
It was just marvelous to see that happen.
[ Cheers and applause ] >> Thank you.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebearers through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.
Let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.
[ Cheers and applause ] ♪ ♪ >> Leon Bass still feels it's his duty to speak out for freedom and against racism.
>> You should be telling them about what happened to you in your own country when they treated you so terribly.
You should tell them about what you saw at that camp in Nazi Germany.
I'm here today to talk to you, to tell you that you have to speak up.
>> African-American soldiers have written an extraordinary chapter of history, one long overlooked.
They fought a war for freedom and democracy on two fronts -- in Germany and at home -- and won both.
♪ They secured liberty and peace.
And bolstered by the breath of freedom they experienced in Germany, they unleashed the winds of change in America.
♪ [ Cheers and applause ] >> I have a dream.
♪ >> It was a breath of freedom, not only for me, but for the Germans who might have thought otherwise about black soldiers, but recognized that we can do the job as well as anyone.
And you should not judge us by the color of our skin.
♪ >> There was never a question in my mind that Germany would be reunited.
Just as at some level, you thought that the movement in the United States would prevail because it was the right thing.
And you just can't suppress the right thing forever.
You just can't.
And I hope that doesn't sound naive to people, but I believe this to the bottom of my heart.
The majority of the people in this world are for good.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪