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Regards croisés sur les Afro-Américains

Claude Julien

Links across the waters

Field Trip into the Twilight: a German Africanist at Howard University (1937-1939)

Berndt Ostendorf

Texte intégral

Anyone who is familiar with the economic and social structure of the U. S. must recognize that, particularly in times of crisis, the Negro problem is and will remain America’s most pressing problem. In my view a solution within a capitalist system with its typical social and economic setup is impossible, and patchwork improvements which have been tried will be of small help. Only the removal of the racial and class divide, in other word the removal of capitalism itself would be the necessary first step for a solution of the negro problem. Only under a socialist system can this be achieved (my translation).

  • 1 Stephan Palmié (Dept. of Anthropology, University of Chicago) drew my attention to this remarkable (...)
  • 2 Lips used the name of the student paper, The Hilltop, as an alias for Howard University.

1Thus ends the preface of a remarkable narrative published in 1950 by the Rector of Leipzig University, Julius Lips. (Lips, 1950, 13)1 Thirteen years earlier, he had taught in the Social Science division at Howard University in Washington D. C. in his area of specialization, African ethnology. His colleagues at Howard University included Ralph Bunche, E. Franklin Frazier, Alain Locke, Abram L. Harris, Charles Wesley and Emmet E. Dorsey. What story did he tell? His abiding interest was to document and comment on the pernicious impact of racism on individual black behavior and its baneful long-range effects upon the academic culture of “Hilltop University”: the wholesale aping of white ways on the part of students, faculty and faculty wives and the paranoid color consciousness internalized by the victims of white racism. With sardonic insistence, he dwells on individual and intergroup foibles and he finds the lack of a “cultural African identity” and of individual self-confidence in the black academic class deplorable.2 Why would anyone want to acquire the norms of white America which he considered, from his European perch, somewhat shallow and wanting to begin with, when Africa had such a rich heritage? The time and place of this publication were unusual. The author had just been appointed Rector of an old and distinguished university in the brand-new Socialist Republic of East Germany. In keeping with the socialist world view of his employer, the GDR, he placed the blame for the “colonial socialization” squarely on white racist capitalism, a stance that would have found favor with current “whiteness studies.” Unlike them, however, he was not a radical contextualist and would not let those individuals off the hook who had made an art of “blaming the system” for their inadequacies and lack of personal achievement. In his narrative, he divides the blame among victors and victims, analyzes content of character and system of racism rather evenly. Thus, his account echoes and foreshadows E. Franklin Frazier’s insider account of the Black Bourgeoisie, which first appeared in 1955, interestingly, in French. Lips resolutely takes the outside point of view, that of a European Africanist whose superior positionality is implied on both counts. From our perspective today, the way he negotiates two epistemological barriers is most interesting: the color line and the Atlantic divide. This cognitive liability, to modify Ellison’s trope of invisibility, generates its own set of prejudices and tacit background assumptions. Last but not least, the book was a way of getting his own back by portraying in less than flattering terms those very colleagues who engineered his dismissal. His ire added an element of backstage gossip to this complex tale and its multiple refractions.

  • 3 The Museum passed to Lips’s one-legged student Andreas Scheller (1894-1977), who was succeeded in (...)
  • 4 In his letter of April 1933 to the new Nazi mayor, Lips writes: „Der marxistische Jude Prof. Honig (...)

2How did this German Africanist, Julius Lips (1895-1950), end up at Howard? Historical contingencies help to thicken the plot. His academic career began in Germany with a doctorate in philosophy with minors in economics and anthropology in 1919. In 1923 he added a degree in law, but then he chose to make a career of his minor, anthropology. He worked as a graduate assistant with Willy Foy (1873-1929) and Graebner (1877-1934) at the Museum of Ethnology in Cologne. When Foy became incurably ill, Graebner briefly took over the directorship, but was prostrated by the same nervous illness as Foy. In a remarkably shrewd career move, Lips, who at the time was Graebner’s research assistant, jockeyed himself into the position of director of the Museum. At the same time, in 1929, he submitted his “Habilitation” and, after a controversial vote in the committee, was promoted to associate professor at the University in 1930. This promotion did not go unchallenged and triggered an academic scandal; for there were strong allegations voiced by his co-students, Paul Lesser and Martin Block, that he had plagiarised the field work of his predecessors at the Museum. Due to the turbulent political times, these claims were never dealt with or substantiated in court. For soon thereafter, on 12 March 1933, Lips was dismissed by the new Nazi powers for reasons of “political unreliability,” probably owing to his running on the Social Democratic ticket in 1932 for the City council elections. The Nazis took the allegations of plagiarism, though voiced by two Jews, seriously and made several house searches to retrieve stolen materials.3 Lips now threw himself at the feet of the new Nazi mayor in Cologne in order to be reinstated as director. In a letter, he insisted on his excellent Aryan standing using the very allegations of plagiarism by his “Jewish” co-students as proof of his antisemitic credentials. But this groveling before the Nazi brass did him no good.4 After continued harrassment by the Nazi powers, he chose exile in France in March 1934. It must have added insult to injury that a mediocre, one-legged student of his, who was a member of the Nazi party, became his successor. In May 1934, he was admitted to the US on the basis of a letter of invitation by Franz Boas. In his request to Boas, Lips had claimed that “he gave up his job voluntarily” because he could no longer live in “this prisonhouse of the mind.” In the US, he became active in anti-fascist organizations: the American Committee for Anti-Nazi Literature and the Council for a Democratic Germany. In that capacity, he formed a lasting friendship with Heinrich Mann and other exiled antifascist writers, a connection which stood him in good stead for the resumption of his career in Germany after the war. Quite obviously, he possessed the cosmopolitan charm of a consummate trickster. In 1937, his book The Savage Hits Back: Or The White Man Through Native Eyes was published in London and by Yale University Press. It dealt with the representation of the White man in African art and received strong endorsement, among others from Bronislav Malinowski who praised its innovative gaze “from the native point of view.” In an odd way Lips’s book was postcolonial avant la lettre. It adds to the irony that this book, which remains unique to this day, was based on those very field materials that Lips had in all likelihood appropriated from his predecessor’s collection. But in this time of political turmoil in Europe, nobody was there to protest or challenge his breach of copyright, particularly when such heavy support was forthcoming from Malinowski. This sudden fame in the profession prompted the invitation from Howard University.

3The shortness of his tenure there and the abrupt change in the estimation by his colleagues at Howard are remarkable and give rise to further speculation. In 1937 he was emphatically endorsed for the post by three spokesmen of the Social Science division, among them E. Franklin Frazier. “The Division feels that Howard University can ill afford to present courses in this highly technical field except under the competent direction of Professor Lips’s calibre and attainments.” Yet his dismissal was demanded even more emphatically only two years later, this time signed by an even more powerful group in full academic regalia: “E. Franklin Frazier, Department of Sociology, Alain Locke, Department of Philosophy, Ralph Bunche, Department of Political Science, Abram L. Harris. Department of Economics, Charles H. Wesley. Department of History.” Their controlled and studied prose barely contains the profound contempt that this Africanist managed to shore up in less than two years:

It is the considered opinion of the Division of the Social Sciences that instruction in Anthropology is a vital and desirable part of the college instruction in the social science field, and thus the Divison has repeatedly urged its inauguration and expansion. However, this position is predicated upon the instruction in this subject constituting a program of standard courses of a type and sequence normally offered in American college. In reply to your letter of inquiry concerning the reappointment of Dr. Lips addressed to us as heads of the several social science departments concerned, we feel, with regret but upon the basis of concrete experience in the past, that Dr. Lips is unable by his background of experience and perhaps by temperament to participate effectively in the development of such a program. (Edgcomb, 1993, 110-112)

4In an article in the Atlanta World of June 15, 1939, Dean Charles H. Thompson (who appears as Dean Blockhead in Lips’s book) spells out more specific details:

First, Dr. Lips possesses an unfortunate temperament and personality which make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for him to get along amicably with his colleagues. At the present time his relationship with his colleagues in the social sciences is either one of polite indifference or suppressed hostility, so that any sort of real collaboration is highly improbable. Dr. Lips, for some reason, has attracted very few students to his courses, even after a two-year stay at the university. It will be observed that Dr. Lips has never had more than 38 students during any one of the five semesters he has been in the college, and during the current year he had only 15 students the first semester and 16 students are registered during the second semester (Ibid.. 112).

  • 5 Social Democratic leader Robert Görlinger in a letter to Bruno Kuske of 12.4. 1947 states that „Br (...)

5Upon the request of a member of the Board of Trustees, Lips was given the opportunity to resign before he was fired (110-111). What precisely happened between him and his colleagues is nowhere clearly spelled out and must be extrapolated from his skewed version of the story. Rayford Logan’s history of Howard university does not mention Lips in the text, but curiously he lists his book The Savage Hits Back in a bibliography of Howard University writers in the appendix. After his debacle at Howard, Lips returned to New York where he did journalistic work in antifascist organisations. Although he conducted some field work among Native Americans, and although lectured at the New School for Social Research from 1944-48, he had trouble resuming or advancing his career in anthropology. Boas’s support had become muted before his death. Eminent American anthropologists such as Robert H. Lowie und A. L. Kroeber, whose recommendation he had solicited, found his talent “more literary than ethnological,” which in retrospect seems a fair assessment, and finally the ghosts of the past came back to haunt him. That same doctoral student from Cologne, Paul Lesser, who had made the allegations of plagiarism in 1933, raised this issue again when the New School offered him a position. Lesser declined the invitation arguing “that he would not be able to defend his scholarly honor while teaching in the same faculty with the plagiarist Lips.” With his reputation in decline, Lips made efforts after the war to return to Germany. First he gave Cologne a try.5 Upon the advice of a board member of the University of Cologne who had access to Lips’s correspondence with the Nazi authorities, he was denied reinstatement in 1947. He then answered a Leipzig University advertisement for a “politically untainted” Rector. His status as a “Nazi victim” and his American credentials made him look like the ideal candidate, and he was chosen. In his application, he made grandiose claims which, in the prevailing mood of quick restoration, nobody was able to contest nor inclined to question: Lips listed among his many achievements that he had co-authored Franz Boas’s General Anthropology 1938 when in fact he only contributed one short entry on government. He refers to extensive field work in Africa, when in fact he never traveled much beyond Algiers, and that as a tourist. He had visited that city on Mediterranean pleasure cruises in 1927 and 1932 which included stopovers and daily excursions, but no serious field work.

  • 6 Eva Lips Zwischen Lehrstuhl und Indianerzelt. Aus dem Leben und Werk von Julius Lips. Berlin, 1965 (...)
  • 7 Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus Verlag, 1995. See also: Hans Fischer. „Völkerkunde im Nationalsozialismus (...)

6Lips died of colon cancer only a year after his inauguration as rector at age 54. After his death, his wife and fellow anthropologist Eva Lips saw to it that the self-aggrandizing myths he had spun were not challenged, and she wrote a hagiography to buttress his status as a soteriological figure. In her memoires, she portrays him as a saintly figure with near superhuman talents. She calls him “a friend of Negroes and Indians,” “a great man and humanist,” a universalist and no less than “a man for mankind” and a “loving brother of humanity,” a veritable Mahatma Ghandi of Anthropology.6 But in fact, Lips was a self-aggrandizing confidence man, a raconteur who loved half-truths and half-lies, but also a gifted author who possessed a remarkable narrative talent, which he packaged in opportunism. Eva Lips somehow managed to take over his professorship and retired in 1966. She died 1988 at age 82, a revered figure in Socialist East German anthropology. The strange path of their careers was first explored and researched at greater length in a doctoral dissertation by Lothar Pützstück:. Symphonie in Moll. Julius Lips und die Kölner Völkerkunde.7

  • 8 The twilight metaphor is well-established in the Black tradition. W. E. B. Dubois used it repeated (...)

7Lips’s book on his experiences at Howard was published in Weimar one year after the founding of the German Democratic Republic, in 1950. Understandably, there was no readership for a roman à clef about a black American university, and the book was duly ignored. After fifty years, it deserves to be rescued. The title of his narrative Forschungsreise in die Dämmerung (Field Trip into the Twilight) indicates that the narrator assumes the role of a participant observer to chart the twilight of black (mulatto) bourgeois life.8 Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, in her book on exiled Germans at Black Universities, comments that Lips “portrays his Howard experience as a fascinating and moving sort of ethnographic field trip to explore the world of the African American bourgeoisie. Throughout his frequently sardonic descriptions and his astonishing, unscientific conflation of biological and cultural traits, he is the superior European, cultured and refined, generously giving, while observing these unhappy folk (115).” The account is semifictional. Historical or living characters such as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Dubois, Roland Hayes, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes are mentioned or interact with invented dramatis personae at Howard. With the exception of the president, who is closely modeled on the original, the latter are composite characters that Lips created bricolage fashion from recognizable traits of his real life colleagues. In these rather graphic description, of daily practice lies the most interesting part of the story.

8The account begins aboard the ocean liner Ile de France en route from Le Havre to New York. The narrator and his wife, anthropologists Peter and Pat Smith, are of unidentified European origin (though with an English name) and introduce themselves as world citizens and cosmopolitans. Back from a research trip to England, they are returning to their new home in the USA. As anthropologists, they love to observe people on the world stage and they gaze upon the busy life on board with its myriad presentations of self as a sort of human zoo. This narrative stance of close scrutiny and quasi-ethnological evaluation is maintained throughout the book which therefore consists of a series of microevents, cultural vignettes, intimate portraits and social rituals. In the dining hall, a “pale elegant” gentleman with shortcropped, dark hair dines all alone. His solitude, they soon find out, is not voluntary. When they invite him to join their table for a glass of Veuve Cliquot, which he readily accepts, a white American couple next to them, after exchanging frantic whispers, moves to another part of the dining hall. The gentleman turns out to be an eminent black biologist, Dr. Parker, back from a research trip in Europe (probably modeled on the marine biologists at Howard, Ernest Just). Despite persistent inquiries, he refuses to tell them specifics about his profession or name the place where he works. When in New York, they suggest they should meet again; he curtly refuses, dropping a loaded remark that he has “a profession, but not a position.” Soon thereafter, the narrator opens the letter that invites him to assume a position at Hilltop University, a Negro university in Washington D. C., and a rash of memories overwhelms this “specialist of Africa”: “For someone who knew Negroes... instantly the old images returned: the moist damp jungle, the steppes and deserts, sounds of drums, wood carvings documenting an age old tradition, African metal work developed long before the white man invented foundries, the dances, the rhythms, old tales, the respect of Gods, the dynamic power of proud traditional tribes that, under the tutelage of chieftains, lived a primitive life that brought home to the white man the emptiness of his own so-called civilization.” In that same erotoprimitivist vein, the narrator makes frequent references to “real Negroes” or to a pure Africa, where “the genuine and noble children of the continent maintained traditions and customs, safety, hospitality and care.” Quite different is what he finds at Hilltop, “in the border area between black and white: a mongrelized crew, which combined the vices of both worlds without any of its virtues” (22). He is both fascinated and horrified by race mixture and by the effects of assimilation on “Africans” transported to the New World. On the whole, this specialist of “the real Africa” which, in the absence of any real experience, is a fanciful projection, takes a dim view of hybridity and métissage, thus echoing Count Gobineau rather than Franz Boas. While African blacks were proud tribesman, new world blacks had to work as lift boys, porters, pullman staff or jazz musicians. They live in a twilight zone, neither here nor there. “Anthropologically speaking, they are not Negroes anymore. All their faces showed white blood. How had the old traits mixed with the new. How had it affected their souls. Had it turned them into denizens of a borderworld.” Hence, the very notion of a “Negro University” that has to operate under these liminal conditions intrigues him. “Was there such a thing?” Though many people warned him that Hilltop was faction-ridden, this “cosmopolitan” insists that he wants to go there “as a friend and helper,” whereupon he is given the cynical insider advice: “At Hilltop there are no friends.” His initiation to the color coded world begins as he rather naively tries to find lodgings in a racially territorialized city. Depending on where he looks in D. C., either no black visitors are allowed, or no white visitors will venture to come. Therefore, they move into a liminal space, a Hotel. When he arrives at Hilltop, he is delighted to find that his office will be in Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall where his wife, to the chagrin of Hilltop janitors, commits the first breach of etiquette as she begins to clean and put his office in order, something unheard of among Hilltop faculty wives. Now begins the inventory of the dramatis personae, the strange types who people this twilight zone between the races. First, Dr. Benjamin Jones, the chairman of the Sociology department is introduced, in all likelihood modeled on E. Franklin Frazier. The narrator quickly falls in line with the local color etiquette and sizes his characters up in the spirit of genealogicalcum-social ascription: “very dark, casually dressed, round forehead, broad nose, full mouth –bronze-Benin type.” Then, we meet President Obadiah Lamarquis de Wedlock (closely modeled on Mordecai Johnson), who is described as “light colored and as a cagey, shrewd operator with smooth hair, dark eyes. Nothing Negroid, more like a Jewish bandleader or a soft-featured Kapellmeister.” This is Lips’s least fictional figure; for Wedlock shares his looks, his leadership qualities and his controversial reputation with Mordecai Wyatt Johnson. The historian of Howard University, Rayford Logan, draws this portrait of the President: “Very few of those who have known President Johnson hold neutral views about him; the vast majority are fervent admirers or bitter critics.... There is, however, one view about him on which friends, adversaries and neutrals tend to agree — that he possessed a ‘Messianic Complex.’... In certain ‘Messianic Moments’, he would tell the late E. Franklin Frazier the kind of sociology to write or the late Abram Harris the kind of economics to study.... He was one of the great platform orators of his day. Practically never using a manuscript but relying almost entirely on an outline, his remarkable memory and his thorough ‘homework,’ he generally won the admiration of his audiences” (Rayford, 1969, 249-250).

  • 9 A philosophical source for his skepticism against race mixture may have been Nietzsche: „Skepsis n (...)

9In the narrator’s rhetoric and manner of description we detect that race mixture both fascinates and horrifies him. They meet their mixed student body from all over the world including Caribbeans, Asians and Africans. All of them “exaggerate” their “pseudo-identities”—they are not balanced or well in their skins.9 He notes compulsive behavior and is amazed at the stand-offish student-teacher relations. Next comes Angus Hastings, Dean of faculty and Professor of German, whose specialty is medieval Niebelungen epics, which he readily recites, adding a moment of surrealism. Soon, another colleague, Dollar Grant McLee, a dark brown roundhead, head of economics (Abraham Harris), who emerges as a gifted storyteller along with Eusebius (Earl) Porter in Political Science, a 47-year-old bachelor and closet Marxist, whose home is filled with portraits of Marx and Lenin and who receives “foreign visitors,” a close portrait of Ralph Bunche. Porter, McLee and Jones are drinking buddies and welcome the chance to meet at the narrator’s office. They take him along on their drinking binges when stories are told, gossip is exchanged and in particular steam is let off against President Obadiah, whom all of them parody to great effect. Archibald Hume, who is part African and Asian and was educated in Europe, adds an intrigue-conscious denizen of the twilight zone along color lines. Then we meet Sidney Pretty, a Creole with straight hair who casually refers to his descent from Mexican forefathers, a claim which cuts little ice with his cynical colleagues. Dress conscious, he remains a black Victorian with a vengeance. He particularly despises the coarse presentation of self of his colleagues who love to tell off-color stories, and the mimetic talent of his colleagues, he says, reminds him more of monkeys. This may well be a partial portrait of Alain Locke. Enter Mr. Pradhana Tamil Grumukhi, disciple of Ghandi and dark Hindu who adds some condiment to the gumbo. He is introduced as “different in many ways.” Though blacker than most of his Hilltop colleagues and students, he turns out to run a caste-ridden New Age type religious center that does not admit blacks. Enter Dr. George E. Parker again, the distinguished scholar, biologist and embryologist, specialist of sea mollusks, etc., who greets them with “You don’t belong here.” The narrator comments: “On board he had been a cool, solitary and bored gentleman, on Hilltop campus he appeared as an ice cold, solitary and mute misanthrope.” He is characterized as the only true cosmopolitan who, though he moves in the best circles in Paris, Germany and Austria, is thwarted by the academic situation at Hilltop. We also meet Mr. Quivers, a Black Bostonian who is keeper of materials, a charming family man whose children do performances of Shoeshine Boy. The narrator praises the talent for mimicry and performance and cheers the “curious moment when the compulsively bourgeois mannerisms are thrown overboard... When the special talents of their race become visible.” He comments on the compulsively neutral housing and dress codes. Enter Puma, a passablanc art historian who feels like a Pariah and who marvels at white matrimonial habits. She finds its odd that Smith’s wife Pat should do the cleaning, plus secretarial and other service work for her husband. “No black woman would help her husband like you do, she would make him work for her.” Cauli Jones, wife of the department chairman, is a high yeller Venus of the “Willendorf type.” The Negro problem is the only topic she is interested in, which weighs down every conversation. When Pat protests that she is not color conscious, she is reminded by Cauli that in the US there is a culture of mutual hatred between black and white. She is given a lesson in cross-racial etiquette: “When we meet a white person who does not behave in accordance with the color line, we are puzzled and confused.” The narrator comments on the paradoxical situation that the Smiths may be invited by blacks to their homes, but they cannot reciprocate; for no black visitors will be let into their hotel by the black doormen. Therefore, they institutionalize a commons room afternoon tea at 4 p. m. in Douglass Hall, and this venue becomes a favorite exchange on the problems of the color line and of Hilltop University. Permanent topics are the South, the color line and President Obadiah. The narrator marvels at the use of “debasing” language, the use of the term “Nigger” is to him astonishing, as is the prevailing cynicism. When one of the protagonists, Jones alias Frazier, picks up a German edition of “Afrika singt” and reads Langston Hughes I too sing America in German, the trio chimes in like a Greek choir and disses on Hughes’ “dream.” Clearly, their dreams are already deferred. Topics like “good hair” are prominent, and the problem of cutting black hair is raised. One of them relates that in London only Jews can do it well. A storytelling session is devoted to dissing “Anabel,” a white do-gooder and “niggerlover,” perhaps a caricature of Nancy Cunard since Annabel is introduced as the author of a book entitled Black Man and White Lady.

10As a teacher of ethnology, the narrators breaks many tacit rules of academic etiquette. He lets his students articulate their sense of self and invites essays on an anthropological archeology of their own situation, which brings forth surprisingly honest answers. He makes the observation that all students report on the experience of coming of age: of becoming conscious of the color line (107). He also notes that complaints about racism are strongest from the academically weakest (109). The practice of color coding among student fraternities gets commented upon as well as the popular genealogical family myths of having descended from free blacks (110). “These sounded like answers to questions nobody had asked” (110). His description of fraternity and sorority life becomes a scathing caricature, and he invites those students not admitted to critique these initiation rites. He includes a long list of rules for admission to three of the most popular sororities which one of his most intelligent students does not meet due to her skin color. Repeatedly, he praises the musical talent and mimic talent of his students. To him, moments of pure joy occur when the choir sings Ave Verum: “Could this exist: that perfect charm of color should pair with perfect charm of harmony?” (119) But he finds the talent most evident when they perform black music: “Rhythm, tricksters, magic, exuberance and music triumphed” (120). He notes with surprise that divinity students tend to be darker, and he attributes their choice of a religious career to the fact that they did not get into a fraternity of social climbers. Describing a Roland Hayes concert, he notes with astonishment that the bourgeois audience seems to prefer the classics on the program to the Negro spirituals which Hayes gives as encores. The latter draw muted applause at best. “Yes, this true artist did not find an echo amongst the brethren of his race that he would have encountered in the great concert halls of this world.” The same effect is observed at a folklife concert where a black group does work songs and draws criticism from Hilltop faculty wives: “Africans.” “Those with us had forgotten their simple origins, were trying to move from the swamps to the salon” (169). In their eagerness to assimilate, they had lost their ability to appreciate their own true folk art. But there is also insurgent political consciousness. A black militant student of Jamaican extraction explodes: “These know-it-alls here at Hilltop, the entire bastardized society, which is neither black nor white, will certainly not be the leadership in the fight toward the emancipation of blacks. We hate them, we despise them.” Even Afrocentrism makes an appearance. The narrator mentions a black professor of religion who is an advocate of Afrocentrism, a theory that the narrator dismisses as nonsense. “The achievements of African blacks are important enough not to call for absurdities.” Most puzzling to Smith is the power of the president and his ability to control the seething cauldron of discontent and to choreograph what Thorstein Veblen called “the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency.” When Smith proposes to do a public lecture on “the white man in primitive art,” a topic that creates a sense of panic at Hilltop, the first attempt is tacitly boycotted. The slide projector does not work, nobody shows up since someone forgot to hang the posters. Only when the narrator insists on going through with his lecture does the event happen. There is a mixed-race audience which is courting danger. A white visitors comments: “Your naiveté brought us together.”

11As part of a project, Smith asks his students to do an anthropological study of black religion in the city. We get a fairly accurate description of Solomon Lightfoot Micheaux and his congregation, and we learn about the charitable institutions of Daddy Grace, also about his powers over his detractors. Two of his students, who are attuned to religious sentiments, introduce him to the shades of difference between rocking storefront churches and the more bourgeois congregations. He comments on a lengthy radio sermon by Lightfoot Michaux rather positively, but finds the interruption by a commercial for a laxative shocking. A much advertised scientific conference set up by the Social Science Division turns into a major disaster: nobody at Hilltop or of the City shows up or is interested. In fact, there is a total lack of interest on the part of the student body, the other faculty members and the surrounding white world. The small group that attends decides to adjourn to a student bar where they are treated to a blackface minstrel performance got up by the students. The final two chapters deal with the secret powers and leadership talents of Obadiah Wedlock. There seems to be a revolution afoot to upset and demote the president. This corresponds to one of several attempts to oust President Johnson who ran Howard like an autocrat. The case against Johnson was raised by the General Alumni Federation, which issued a special issue of its journal in the winter of 1937/1938 (Logan, 338). How does the president deal with it in Lips’s account? First, he dresses down his staff by telling them what he thinks of their academic qualifications and what they owe to him. His legitimation of his criticism is that they have failed to improve the race. He particularly lambasts the stupid mimicry of pure science — an area of inquiry where they, with their strictly limited talents, would never make it anyway. In fact, pure science is a mere veil for their incompetence. Instead, they should have strengthened the applied sciences and contemplated their services to the race, a sentiment in line with Booker T. Washington. All those “performers” who had been so brave in combating Obadiah by parody or “putting pressure” on him are now mute and subdued. “Putting pressure on the president is dangerous.” When McLee tries to get a pay raise, the President outfoxes him. When Dean Hastings passes away, the president appoints a non-entity in education, Rockefeller Delirious Blockhead (Dean Thompson), who enters the fray with a “Ten Year Plan.” Again, there was a tradition of ten-year plans. Intriguing are his remarks on the treatment of white staff. Either they are superheroes, like Smith, who are above the caterwauling and cabales, or they are subordinate staff, who have to be doubly subservient (272). Often, they are from the American South and are made to pay for the sins of their fathers. But there are those who cynically exploit this niche in the racialized system. One Dr. Hail, a biologist who studies “roots” is known on campus as the hyena and as the root doctor (276). The most important chapter is entitled “The seven sermons of Obadiah” where the latter is introduced as a consummate performer and orator. Again, Lips stays very close to the original Johnson. Like him, Obadiah pulls all registers in his commencement speech on “The achievement of the Black Race.” Logan writes about Johnson: “He exploited his commanding physical presence and resonant voice which ran the gamut from an overpowering crescendo to almost a whisper... Few persons who heard him were left unmoved, although many listeners had later reservations about the intellectual content of some of his public addresses” (250), and he adds that, regrettably, Johnson left no paper trace of his oratorical abilities, for he never wrote his speeches down. In two chapters, Lips gives a detailed rendering of two speeches which correspond in manner of delivery and radical content to Logan’s description of Johnson. The final chapter is entitled “homecoming” and ends on a note of hope. The blind emeritus Homer Anderson wants to set up a museum of American Negro. The final scene brings Parker and Anderson together. In Smith’s estimate they are the finest specimens of the university. Parker pulls out of his pocket a letter by the student union propagating The James Weldon Johnson social register of Hilltop University. The narrator ends his survey of Hilltop mores with: “Everything is enveloped in the feeling of a great and unspecified sadness.” The dedication of the book reads: “I dedicate this book to the liberation of the Negro race from its black and white oppressors.”

12Lips assumes the position of the imperial and colonial cosmopolitan, enhanced by a self-aggrandizing personality structure. It may be interesting to recall at this moment that under Lips’s successor, the Cologne Museum of Ethnology became the center of a “Neocolonial Movement” (a revival of German imperial dreams under Nazi tutelage). Given his opportunism, Lips would undoubtedly have been an enthusiastic proponent of this movement if the Nazis had let him stay. He is a staunch Eurocentric universalist and opponent of racism, but also a romantic Africanist, a defender of primitive tradition against “effete civilization,” of cultural purity against hybridity (twilight). This combination of attitudes made him highly suspect and perhaps a bit of a loose cannon for his well-meaning colleagues. A white innocent abroad at Howard could be a liability. There is no evidence what went on behind the scenes, whether his history as a confidence man was ever revealed to his colleagues, whether Boas was involved as much in his dismissal as in his hiring or whether it was indeed his constant breach of racial etiquette which made his stay at Hilltop a liability for his colleagues and for the president. These are questions that need further research.


Works cited

Edgcomb, Gabrielle Simon, 1993. From Swastika to Jim Crow. Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Publishing.

Lips, Julius, 1950. Forschungsreise in die Dämmerung. Weimar: Kiepenheuer.

Logan, Rayford W., 1969. Howard University. The First Hundred Years. 1867-1967. New York: New York Univ. Press.


1 Stephan Palmié (Dept. of Anthropology, University of Chicago) drew my attention to this remarkable book. All references will be to the first edition, within brackets in the text.

2 Lips used the name of the student paper, The Hilltop, as an alias for Howard University.

3 The Museum passed to Lips’s one-legged student Andreas Scheller (1894-1977), who was succeeded in 1940 by Martin Heydrich (1889-1969) a fervent Nazi who, in accordance with the Nazi outreach for new Lebensraum, founded the “neo-colonial movement.” Despite this Nazi mortgage, Heydrich received “denazification papers” in 1948, was reinstated and ultimately became one of the leading post WWII-ethnologists in Germany.

4 In his letter of April 1933 to the new Nazi mayor, Lips writes: „Der marxistische Jude Prof. Honigsheim beantragte wegen meiner Stellungnahme gegen den Klassenkampf und die internationale Idéologie der Sozialdemokratie gegen mich den Ausschluß aus dieser Partei. Als weiteres Argument wurde mein seit Jahren gekannter Antisemitismus angefuhrt. Die Träger der gegen mich inszenierten Hetze waren jüdische Verleumder, deren Namen allein zu ihrer Kennzeichnung genügen: Honigsheim, Leser, Lehmann, Block, Vatter.“ (“The Marxist Jew, Prof. Honigsheim, reacted to my position against class war and against the internationalist ideology of Social Democracy by advocating my expulsion from the party. Another argument that he advanced was my long-standing, well-known antisemitism. The instigators of such mobbing were Jewish slanderers whose names alone mark them: Honigsheim, Leser, Lehmann, Block, Vatter.“) Lothar Pützstück, „Von Dichtung und Wahrheit im akademischen Lehrbetrieb. Die Entlassung des Völkerkundlers Julius Ε. Lips durch die Nationalsozialisten in Köln 1933,“ in Wolfgang Blaschke et. al. Nachhilfe zur Erinnerung — 600 Jahre Universität zu Köln. Köln 1988.

5 Social Democratic leader Robert Görlinger in a letter to Bruno Kuske of 12.4. 1947 states that „Briefe von Prof. Julius Lipsius vom 19.7.1933 vorlagen, in denen er sich gerade zu in unwürdiger Weise dem Nationalsozialismus an den Hals geworfen hatte, nur um seinen Direktorposten am Museum und seine Lehrtätigkeit wieder aufnehmen zu können. Erst als das mißlungen war, ging er ins Ausland und wurde kämpferischer Gegner des Nationalsozialismus.“ (“I gained access to the letters from Julius Lips of 4/19, 7/6 and 7/19 1933 in which he threw himself in the most unworthy fashion at the feet of National Socialism, simply in order to regain his directorship at the Museum and his teaching activity. It was only when this did not succeed that he went abroad and became a militant opponent of National Socialism”). Pützstück, 263.

6 Eva Lips Zwischen Lehrstuhl und Indianerzelt. Aus dem Leben und Werk von Julius Lips. Berlin, 1965 a.

7 Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus Verlag, 1995. See also: Hans Fischer. „Völkerkunde im Nationalsozialismus,“ Kölner Universitätsjournal. 20. Jahrgang, 1, 1990, and Lothar Pützstück, „Von Dichtung und Wahrheit im akademischen Lehrbetrieb. Die Entlassung des Völkerkundlers Julius Ε. Lips durch die Nationalsozialisten in Köln 1933,“ in Wolfgang Blaschke et. al. Nachhilfe zur Erinnerung — 600 Jahre Universität zu Köln. Cologne, 1988.

8 The twilight metaphor is well-established in the Black tradition. W. E. B. Dubois used it repeatedly and Cornel West elaborates the trope: “Black Strivings in a Twilight Civilization,” in Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West. The Future of the Race. New York: Vintage 1996.

9 A philosophical source for his skepticism against race mixture may have been Nietzsche: „Skepsis nämlich ist der geistigste Ausdruck einer gewissen vielfachen physiologischen Beschaffenheit, welche man in gemeiner Sprache Nervenschwäche und Kräklichkeit nennt; sie entsteht jedes Mal, wenn sich in entscheidender und plötzlicher Weise lang von einander abgetrennte Rassen oder Stande kreuzen. In dem neuen Geschlechte, das gleichsam verschiedene Masse und Werte in’s Blut vererbt bekommt, ist Alles Unruhe, Störung, Zweifel, Versuch; die besten Kräfte wirken hemmend, die Tugenden selbst lassen einander nicht wachsen und stark werden, in Leib und Seele fehlt Gleichgewicht, Schwergewicht, perpendikuläre Sicherheit. Was aber in solchen Mischlingen am tiefsten krank wird und entartet, das ist der Wille: sie kennen das Unabhängige im Entschlusse, das tapfere Lustgefühl im Wollen gar nicht mehr, — sie zweifeln an der „Freiheit des Willens“ auch noch in ihren Träumen. Unser Europa von heute, der Schauplatz eines unsinnig plotzlichen Versuchs von radikaler Stände — und folglich Rassenmischung, ist deshalb skeptisch in alien Höhen und Tiefen, bald mit jener beweglichen Skepsis, welche ungeduldig und lüstern von einem Ast zum andern springt, bald trübe wie eine mit Fragezeichen überladene Wolke, — und seines Widens oft bis zum Sterben satt! Willenslähmung: wo findet man nicht heute diesen Krüppel sitzen!“ Friedrich Nietzsche. Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Sechstes Hauptstück: Wir Gelehrten 207-208.1885. Munich: DTV, 1988, 138. (My paraphrase: skepticism has a physiological side which is commonly called neurasthenia and sickliness. It occurs when races or classes that were long apart suddenly come together or cross-breed. The new race deposits different measures and values into the blood which results in excitement, irritation, doubt, trial. Even the best forces have a stalling effect, even virtues do not combine, there is no harmony, momentum, perpendicular safety in either body or soul. What declines most drastically in such mongrels is the will: they lack an independent decision, the brave urge of the will — they doubt this freedom of the will even in their dreams. Our Europe of today, the ground of radical class and race mixture, has become skeptical in high or low times, a skepticism which sometimes jumps, greedy and impatient, from branch to branch, sometimes hangs over us like a dark cloud; it is sick to death of its former will. Paralysis of the will: cripples everywhere..)

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2003

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