From Police Officer to Public Enemy to Peace Seeker: Cast of ‘Sam—A Saxon’ Begin Educational Tour at Davidson College
Samuel Meffire was a cop-turned-celebrity-turned-criminal whose brutal early years reflected the wider violence that terrorized minorities and immigrants in East Germany just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
He served as the first Black police officer in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR,) then later fought against resurging Nazism as Germany reunified. He spent years in prison for robbery, then wrote a harrowing memoir about life in a troubled place during tumultuous times.
All of that unfolds at a breathless pace in the new Disney + and Hulu series, Sam—A Saxon. And Davidson College will be the first in America to host the cast and producers as they begin an international educational tour.
They’ll hold workshops and visit with theatre and German studies classes. On Monday night, they’ll speak and answer questions at a two-hour event that’s free and open to the public.
Meffire’s story offers a cautionary tale about history never losing the potential to repeat itself.
It comes during deep political polarization and a rise in far-right ideology in Germany, across Europe and in the United States. Meffire finds troubling similarities to what he experienced during the late 1980s and early 1990s and what’s happening around the world today.
In Saxony, the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, with a strong anti-immigration platform, continues to gain power. Countries including Italy and Hungary have turned to far-right leaders, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine slogs along, with thousands left dead, injured and homeless.
Meffire also follows American politics with a wary eye. White supremacist groups like The Proud Boys helped lead and fuel the violent Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the United States Capitol. The world can’t ignore this rising tide, he said.
“I think most people are good, but if confronted with big, quick changes, many turn to fear,” he said, citing Adolph Hitler’s domination before World War II. “Nazism and racism can seduce people when they’re fearful.
“That’s what we’re dealing with—history sometimes comes back.”
Dramatic Teaching Tool
Davidson’s German Studies Department is collaborating with the Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA) and the German Embassy to bring the series and crew to campus. It’s already been a powerful teaching tool.
Over the past few weeks, Visiting Assistant Professor of German Studies Emily Frazier-Rath’s students have watched the series as homework, and held in-class discussions about the history and issues it portrays. She co-teaches the “Black German Art and Resistance” seminar with Rosemarie Peña, founder and president of the BGHRA.
Students keep journals and make connections between Meffire’s struggles, the history he lived and how it resonates today.
“I love the series, and I love how much I’ve learned from it,” said Mav Smith ’26, who plans to double-major in English and Africana Studies. “There are so many beautifully crafted scenes where you can feel the emotions of the characters.
"There is immense power in this story being told by people who've been subjected to and impacted by racism. Their experiences and identities being made visible is one of the many things that makes this series and course imperative."
Working with the German government, Meffire and cast and crew members have spent the past few months speaking to high-school aged students there. The talks give them hope—and concern.
Series producer and co-creator Jörg Winger describes visiting Saxony schools “with one or two Black German children, and the other 25 are white. The Black children don’t speak up during the discussions, then they’ll go and talk to Samuel privately afterward.”
They’ve told him about being bullied, threatened and taunted with racial slurs.
“It’s really disturbing what they’ve experienced,” Winger said. “We just had a case where we feel we should call the authorities.”
Longing for Stability
Meffire experienced many such painful experiences as a child.
His mother was white and German; his Black father was an engineering student from Cameroon who died under suspicious circumstances on the day Meffire was born. Meffire grew up between two worlds, feeling like he belonged to neither. Racism ran rampant.
He joined the Dresden police force as its first Afro-German officer, seeking the safety, stability and order it provided. It was short-lived as deep political turmoil rocked the region. Many wanted East Germany freed from communist Soviet rule. The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for East and West Germany to reunify the next year and was a prelude to the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The rapidly shifting forces of change created a subset of exploding violence.
Neo-Nazis, skinheads and other white supremacists terrorized Black, Jewish and refugee homes and businesses. They worked in packs, brutally beating people, setting fires and destroying buildings. Meffire provided security to those targeted by the extremists.
As Germany began to reunify, Meffire caught the attention of a national anti-racist advertising campaign. His face appeared on posters and billboards, and he went on news and talk shows, becoming a national star.
A top government official invited him to join a new special police force tasked with fighting the rise of far-right terrorism. He dove into that mission, then grew disillusioned as many criminals escaped prosecution and continued attacking minority communities.
He quit the force to go back to private security. When he couldn’t meet payroll, he went to work for a gangster, convincing himself that he was robbing bad people to fund his quest to save his country. It didn’t end well, and when he fled Germany, tabloids dubbed him “Public Enemy Number One.”
Captured in the Congo, he was sent back to Germany, convicted of robbery, and spent nearly nine years in prison. He says he spent that time reading, writing and reflecting. When he got out, he went back to private security. That’s how he met Tyron Ricketts, then a rap-singer facing death threats from extremists, and now an actor and co-creator of Sam—A Saxon.
Today Meffire is a writer, social worker, and on a national campaign to educate students about his piece of German history, his journey to finding a home and identity, and the continuing danger of extremism and anti-democratic forces.
“Too many people are silenced by fear,” he said. “Even today, some people won’t speak up because they’re afraid they’ll be punished.”
He and Winger say they aspire to promote not just the TV series, but “understanding, solidarity and inspiration to work for change.”
“We hope that people keep an open mind, and we want to ask them, how do they think they can make a difference? How can they build bridges?,” Winger asked. “We want to learn from them.”
Meffire offers this advice to students:
“Leave your bubble. Talk to the people who don’t agree with you,” he said. “Have a difficult conversation in the spirit of love.”
Join Us Monday, Sept.18, 2023
In collaboration with the Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA) and the German Embassy, the German Studies Department welcomes everyone to join us for an evening of conversation with members of the cast and crew of Disney+ and Hulu's new hit series Sam – A Saxon / Sam – ein Sachse.