This month (June), Western Allies will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the defeat of the racist ideology of Nazism. The promise was that of a brave new world without prejudice. Instead, the ugly spectre of racism is on the rise yet again in Europe.
D-Day on 6 June 1944, the 75th anniversary of which is celebrated this month, was when the Western Allies landed on the continent to liberate Europe and hammer a nail into the coffin of Nazism. It was a decisive moment in history.
Rudolph Dunbar was among those who landed on the beaches of Normandy then, and he made a practice of creating history. Rudolph was born in 1907 in Guyana (then the colony of British Guiana). After studying music in New York, where he was part of the legendary Harlem 'scene', Dunbar moved to Europe in 1925. There he featured prominently in both classical music and jazz in London and Paris, and at the Royal Albert Hall in 1942 became the first black man to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
By then the Second World War had broken out. Dunbar was already an experienced journalist through his writing on music and as the London correspondent of the Associated Negro Press news service. As a war reporter he accompanied the American 8th Army in the D-Day invasion and afterwards, all the way to Berlin.
When the racist Nazi regime was toppled, Rudolph Dunbar--a black man--conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, considered until then to be a Nazi cultural icon, in September 1945 in one of the first concerts in the newly liberated city. They performed Afro-American Symphony by the African-American composer William Grant Still. Later, Dunbar became the first black conductor of concerts in Poland and Russia.
It may have been 75 years ago, but Rudolph's story is relevant to the problems facing the world, and particularly Europe, today. Here was a black man excelling at his craft in circumstances that were almost impossibly adverse. In fact, he excelled at two professions--that of musician (clarinet-instrumentalist and conductor) and of journalist. He was also a cultured, artistic man who braved the harshness of warfare.
Dunbar was aware of the significance of what he had done, saying "the success I have achieved through sacrifice and struggle is not for myself, but for all the coloured people". It is a beautiful dream. Racism had been broken, the 'good guy' had come out on top, the battle had been won ... meaning we should be living now in the best possible world with...