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Tue, 01.19.1926

Hans Massaqoui, Journalist born

Hans Massaquoi

*Hans Massaquoi was born on this date in 1926. He was a Black German-American journalist and author.

Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi was born in Hamburg, Germany, to Bertha Baetz a white German mother, and Al-Haj Massaquoi a Liberian his father the grandson of the consul general of Liberia in Germany at the time. Massaquoi enjoyed a relatively happy childhood with his mother. His father, Al-Haj Massaquoi, was a prince of the Vai people who was in Dublin studying law and only occasionally lived with the family at the consul general's home in Hamburg. Eventually, his grandfather was recalled to Liberia. He and his mother remained in Germany.

Massaquoi was not aware of any other mixed-race children in Hamburg, and like most German children his age, he was lured by Nazi propaganda into thinking that joining the Hitler Youth was an exciting adventure. There was a school contest to see if a class could get a 100% membership of the Deutsches Jungvolk, a subdivision of Hitler Youth, and Massaquoi's teacher devised a chart on the blackboard showing who had joined and who had not. The chart was filled in after each boy joined until Massaquoi was pointedly the sole student left out. He recalled saying, "But I am German ... my mother says I'm German just like anybody else."  His later attempt to join his friends by registering at the nearest Jungvolk office was also met with contempt.

The denial of this rite of passage reinforced his perception that he was being ostracized because he was deemed "Non-Aryan" despite his German birth and mostly traditional German upbringing. After the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, Massaquoi was officially classified as non-Aryan and barred from pursuing an education leading to a professional career. Instead, he was forced to embark on an apprenticeship as a laborer. A few months before he completed school, Massaquoi was required to go to a government-run job center, where his assigned vocational counselor was a member of the SS. Upon seeing the "telltale black SS insignia of dual lightning bolts in the lapel of his civilian suit", He was surprised when he was greeted with "a friendly wink", offered a seat, and asked to present something he had made. After showing Von Vett an ax and discussing his experience working for a local blacksmith, Massaquoi was informed that he could "be of great service to Germany one day" because there would be a great demand for technically trained Germans to go to Africa to train and develop an African workforce when Germany reclaimed its African colonies.

Though he was barred from dating "Aryans", Massaquoi courted a white girl. They had to keep their relationship a secret, especially as her father was a member of the police and the SS. Such relationships were forbidden and classified as Rassenschande (race defilement) under the Nuremberg Laws. They met only in the evenings when they would go for walks. As he dropped his girlfriend off at her house one night, he was stopped by a member of the SD, the intelligence branch of the SS. He was taken to the police station as he was believed to be "on the prowl for defenseless women or looking for an opportunity to steal". However, he was recognized by a police officer as living in the area and working: "This young man is an apprentice at Lindner A.G., where he works much too hard to have enough energy left to prowl the streets at night looking for trouble. I happen to know that because of the son of one of my colleagues’ apprentices with him."  The SD officer closed the case and gave the Nazi salute, and Massaquoi was allowed to leave the station.

As he matured, Massaquoi came to despise Hitler and Nazism. His skin color made him a target for racist abuse, he was often targeted by Nazi employers, he was denied citizenship and he was excluded from serving in the armed forces. During the period following the Allies' near-destruction of Hamburg, he befriended the family of Ralph Giordano, a half-Jewish acquaintance of the surreptitious jazz devotees known as the Swing Kids. The family who managed to survive the war in hiding, helped Massaquoi and his mother to secure a nearby basement after their Hamburg neighborhood was destroyed. Giordano, a lifelong friend, became a journalist as well. In 1948 Massaquoi's father secured his passage for residency in Liberia.

Massaquoi was fascinated and bothered by Africa. While appreciative that his father made possible his escape from post-World War II Germany, he eventually grew estranged from his father, whom he considered arrogant and somewhat tyrannical. However, the two reconciled just before his father's death which preceded Massaquoi's reconnecting with his maternal family in the United States. He emigrated to the United States in 1950. He served two years in the army as a paratrooper in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and fought in the Korean War. He later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. His GI bill helped fund his journalism degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked on his master's at Northwestern University until the impending birth of his first son catapulted into his career at Jet magazine, then Ebony magazine, where he became managing editor.

His position allowed him to interview many historical figures of the arts, politics, and the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement in America and Africa. He was interviewed in turn by Studs Terkel for his oral history, The Good War, and related his unique experiences in Germany under the Nazi government. In his autobiography, Destined to Witness, Massaquoi describes his childhood and youth in Hamburg during the Nazis' rise to power. His book provides a unique point of view: he was one of the very few German-born children of German and African descent.

This duality remained a key theme throughout his early life until he witnessed racism as practiced in colonial Africa and later in Jim Crow America. Massaquoi visited family and friends in Germany many times throughout his life, always aware of Germany's complex history as the country of his childhood. Hans Massaquoi died on January 19, 2013, his 87th birthday. At the time of his death, Massaquoi was married to Katharine Rousseve Massaquoi. He had two sons from a previous marriage, Steve and Hans Jr., who survived him.

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