“Shirley Graham Du Bois and the (East) German Connection," Tiffany Florvil
From her musical interests in composer Richard Wagner to her visits to East Germany, Shirley Graham Du Bois maintained an affinity with Germany that influenced her cultural, intellectual, and political views and practices. While she had lived in Ghana since 1961, the 1966 military coup there that eventually overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah forced her to look for a new residence. Shortly after, Graham Du Bois contemplated moving to East Germany, remarking “every day I have been in the GDR [German Democratic Republic] has strengthened my desire to make Berlin my home–if I cannot go back to Ghana” (Horne 210). Though she did not move there, Graham Du Bois still maintained a significant connection to the communist country.
Focusing on the role that German culture and East Germany played in Graham Du Bois’ life and thought, this paper argues that both impacted her literature and her governmental projects in her capacity as the director of Ghana Television. These experiences as well as others contributed to her “embodied cosmopolitanism,” which included a vision of solidarity as international and interconnected, allowing her to embrace multiple political and cultural affiliations, networks, and strategies. Her gendered mode of cosmopolitanism was rooted in communism and anti-colonialism and reimagined post-colonial Africa (particularly Ghana) as a critical and emerging site for Black cultural and political life more broadly. As she mingled with and formed relationships to government officials, expats, performers, and activists across Europe and beyond, this mobility relied on adaptability and opened up possibilities for travel, activism, and individual and collective liberation.