Saturday, 23 May 2015

1917: African Americans fearful of German corpse-soap

In the December 1917 edition of the American publication Everybody's Magazine appeared a lengthy article titled "Invaded America" by Samuel Hopkins Adams, about the threat posed to the United States—then an official participant in The Great War—by pro-German propaganda from its citizens of German ancestry who worked in the publishing industry.
Adams claimed that in the state of Missouri, wandering German propagandists were fearmongering the black community by telling them that if they enlisted to fight for the U.S., and were taken to Europe and killed, their corpses would be made into soap by the Germans who would then send it to the U.S. where it possibly could be used by their own mothers to do their laundry.
Following is the section in full:

Scaring the Negro

MEANTIME, in the South, a word-of-mouth propaganda was conducted among the blacks, with a view to prejudicing them against the war and in favor of Germany.
Commercial agents, supposed or real, selling sewing-machines, crayon enlargements, household utensils, and the like, went from cabin to cabin spreading the report that the equality denied to the negroes by the United States would be theirs when the Kaiser came into power; therefore any colored man taking arms against Germany would be fighting his race's best friend. To what extremes this campaign was carried may be judged from the incident which follows. A young, "foot-loose" negro came to the postmaster and storekeeper of a south-eastern Missouri town for information:
"Boss, I want to ask you you-all sumfin'. You-all got any Gehman soap in yo' sto'?"
"No, Jake; haven't got such a thing. What do you want with German soap?"
"I do' want any!" cried the negro. "Lawdee! I do' want any. I jes want to know."
"Well, now, you know," said the post-master, and as the young man still hesitated,
"What else is on your mind, Jake?"
"Boss, do them Gehmans make soap?"
"Certainly. They have to if they want it."
"An' they sen' it over heah foh weuns to use?"
"Why, I reckon they used to before the war."
"An' they goin' to sen' some mo' afteh the wah?"
"Likely they are."
"Nossuh!" vehemently declared the youth. "Nossuh! Dey do' git me to enlis'. I'se go'n' to light out, I is! And dey'll be plenty go with me."
After some persuasion the postmaster extorted and explanation of the caller's obvious horror. Some German agent, having devised or had furnished to him

a means of turning the famous "kadaver" rumor to local uses, had been sedulously working upon the fears of the negroes.
It will be remembered that the Germans were accused—and subsequently denied the charge with heat and probably with truth—of using dead bodies of friend and foe in their reduction plants and deriving animal fats therefrom.
Having passed through the manipulative processes of German-American propaganda, this legend, duly fortified by newspaper clippings (which always bear conviction to the mind of the ignorant black whether he can read them or not) had been borne through Missouri by a wandering propagandist in the fore of a horror-tale, with a conclusion somewhat to this effect:
"And when your old mother goes out to her washing after the war is over, she will pick up a bar of soap—and that will be you, her boy, that was killed!"
Imagine the effect upon a ghost-ridden race!

This section of Adam's article was later reprinted in the January 1918 edition of the Canadian publication MacLeans Magazine:

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