Morehouse College is committed to globalization of the student experience as expressed in the strategic theme “Morehouse Beyond Borders”. While one might think immediately of a study abroad program, welcoming foreign guests can contribute to this goal as well. An excellent example of this was a visit in the fall 2019 semester by a group of educators from Germany.
This particular interaction was initiated serendipitously by Dr. John Wilson of Georgia-based USA Global Education Services on behalf of the funding agency of the trip, the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation. The foundation, which is named after the border crossing in the American occupation zone of Berlin from 1945–1989, was established in 1994 promote positive relations and collaboration between Germany and the United States. During the 20th century, Berlin and Atlanta have intersected on several occasions. Morehouse alumnus Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. owes his first name to his father’s trip to the German capital in 1934 during the World Baptist Congress, when M.L. King, Sr. gained deeper insights into the theology of the reformer Martin Luther. And in 1964, the Berlin mayor Willy Brandt invited M.L. King, Jr. to the city and eponymous wall in order to draw parallels between the “freedom struggle” of the civil rights movement in the United States and opposition to the authoritarianism of the East German regime.
Although billed as the “Experience America” program, this two-week guided exposure is able to offer participants only regional excursions. Most of the time was filled with various facets of life in Georgia, but the group of German educators had the opportunity to venture beyond the state line with an overnight jaunt to Chattanooga. Over the course of their stay, the teachers enjoyed southern culture and cuisine, history and hospitality. The cohorts visited the Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta City Hall, several public schools and universities, the homes of southern writers, the Carter Center, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and CNN among others.
The program climaxed on the last day of their stay in United States with “a very emotional yet inspirational visit” to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park and Morehouse College. Upon arrival the group was welcomed by the Director of the Modern Foreign Language Program, Dr. Denise Callejas, German instructor, Dr. Matthew Lange, and a group of students from the first- and third-semester German courses. Since Morehouse College hosts the only German language program in the Atlanta University Center Consortium, our guests had an opportunity to interact with Spelman students as well.
During the lunch discussion, students were able to interact individually at length, both asking and answering questions, and exchanging personal experiences and perceptions. Two of these students were Mr. Grant Commodore (Morehouse, Computer Science, ‘23) and Ms. Jaleah Wiggins (Spelman, Biology, ‘23). Mr. Commodore, a student in the first-semester German course, admitted that he was a bit nervous in anticipation of the meeting, because he had never used German outside the classroom. However, he discovered: “I was able to have basic conversations with them about myself and Germany in German and answer their questions about Morehouse College and education in the United States. At times they spoke exclusively in German and even though I could not respond in German, I was able to understand what they were saying and respond in English. I feel as though Morehouse should have more events like this as the experience allowed me to apply my foreign language skills and learn more about a foreign culture.” Ms. Wiggins, a student in the third-semester German course, was surprised by the informal intimacy of the encounter. She had expected that the teachers would be interested in our German courses and pedagogy. However, “the Germans asked about me the reality of relations between the North and the South in the United States similar to prejudices between Western and Eastern Germany. The teachers and I were able to compare how the judgment of others affected societies across continents.”
Coincidentally, this issue of geographic and ideological division was also a theme in the sermons of M.L. King, Jr. to Berliners in September 1964. After slipping across the border at Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin, Dr. King conveyed brotherly greetings from fellow Christians in West Berlin and the United States. “In a real sense we are all one in Christ Jesus,” he opined, “for in Christ there is no East, no West, no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world.” Precisely these kinds of international dialogs help participants appreciate this notion.
Following the conversations, the Director of the Leadership Studies Program, Dr. Kipton Jensen, shepherded the group over to the Welcome Center, where the cohorts picked up a Student Ambassador for a personalized tour across campus before we wished them “Gute Heimreise” for their departure.
Photo credit: Dr. John Wilson. The German guests with Dr. Callejas, Dr. Jensen, Dr. Lange, and German language students from Morehouse and Spelman.
Matthew Lange is instructor of German at Morehouse College. He has authored Antisemitic Elements in the Critique of Capitalism in German Culture, 1850–1933 (Peter Lang, 2006) as well as several entries in the Handbuch des Antisemitismus (de Gruyter, 2010–15).