After Allied forces defeated Germany in World War II, the United States began its occupation of West Germany from 1945 to 1955. Although American soldiers were tasked with promoting democracy in a country ravaged by fascism, Jim Crow prevailed in the US military and black GIs were discriminated against by white US soldiers.
But nothing has exacerbated racial tensions more than the relationship between African-American soldiers and white German women. These interracial unions led to the birth of approximately 5,000 Métis children, who became outcasts because of their skin color.
African American GIs and German Women
There were 1.6 million American troops in Germany at the end of the war, but when threats of Nazi rebellions subsided, that number quickly dropped to 100,000, including 10,000 black GIs in separate units. In 1951, in the midst of a burgeoning Cold War, the number of American troops in Germany rose to 250,000, with black GIs capped at 10%.
Although some Germans had lingering Nazi beliefs in white supremacy, African American soldiers were widely greeted at local recreation facilities and bars, enjoying freedoms they did not have in America, while also attracting the anger of the white GIs and the military police who responded with brutality.
“If they saw a black soldier with a white German woman, they would sometimes assault them and try to forcibly separate them because they knew this could not have happened if the soldier had returned to Alabama or Mississippi or n anywhere in the United States. Says Maria Höhn, professor at Vassar College and author of GIs and Fräuleins: the German-American encounter in West Germany in the 1950s.
German women who were seen with African American soldiers were threatened, cursed, ostracized and sometimes denied ration cards. Despite the risks, romantic relationships have always taken place and Métis children have been conceived. But unlike babies sired by white occupation soldiers – with estimates ranging from at least 67,000 to over 100,000 – Métis babies could not blend in and were called “mischlingskinder,” a derogatory term for them. biracial children.
The birth of “brown babies”
In an era when having children out of wedlock was a social taboo, it was nearly impossible for black GIs and German women to get married. A soldier had to get permission from his commanding officer, and if the request was from a black soldier to marry his pregnant German girlfriend, the answer was no, followed by a transfer.
“The commanders and sergeants in charge could end these relationships overnight simply by dispatching the soldiers or sending them to another command,” Höhn explains.
Daniel Cardwell, who was born in Marburg, Germany, says his birth parents suffered a similar fate after trying to get married. “My father was transferred from one place to another,” says Cardwell, author of A Matter of Color: A Brown Baby’s Identity Search in a Black and White World. Unbeknownst to Cardwell’s mother, his father had been sent to Korea where he died when Cardwell was four months old.
Cardwell was adopted at the age of three in 1953 by an African-American couple in Washington, DC, through the Brown Baby Plan, a private adoption agency founded by Mabel Grammer, a black journalist from the Afro-American newspaper. Grammer, who was married to a warrant officer stationed in Germany, learned that the orphanages were filled with Métis children and took action. She posted pictures of the children in the Afro-American, asking established black couples to adopt children called “brown babies.” With the ever-changing international adoption laws, Grammer pushed through the bureaucracy and arranged proxy adoptions for African American couples who couldn’t make it to Germany.
Much to the relief of German authorities who believed that Métis children could not integrate successfully and would become a social problem, adoptions were allowed and Scandinavian Airlines agreed to transport the children to the United States. During her husband’s postings in Germany from 1950 to 1954 and 1959 to 1965, Grammer organized the adoption of at least 500 Métis children and adopted 12 of her own.
Desperate German mothers also approached black army couples stationed in Germany. Shirley Gindler Price, founder of the Black German Cultural Society, was adopted at the age of two in 1955, in Ansbach, Germany, where her birth mother met her adoptive parents. “We’re okay not being Grammer babies, but I think Grammer created this environment where a number of us were adopted,” says Gindler Price.
Métis babies in England
Finding homes for Brown Babies was not just a German problem. Black soldiers stationed in England faced race relations issues.
“Some villages and towns would have dances for black GIs one day and whites the next day,” says Lucy Bland, professor at Anglia Ruskin University and author of British “Brown Babies”: The Stories of Children Born to Black GIs and White Women in World War II. Although there were no segregation laws in England, it was “suggested by the Americans because it would reduce hostility between blacks and whites towards women,” says Bland.
According to Bland, 2,000 brown babies have been reported in Britain, more than half of which were raised by their mothers, while others were placed in children’s homes with a small percentage who were adopted or placed. because Métis children were difficult to place. If black GIs and British women wanted to get married, they couldn’t. “The commanders just flatly refused,” says Bland.
An uncertain future
Truman’s Executive Order 9981 which disaggregated the armed forces in 1948 did not improve the status of black soldiers, as its implementation took years and interracial marriage bans remained until the Court Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 1967.
Grammer’s adoption program was praised but also criticized for what German social service officials saw as a lack of control and oversight. Most brown babies in Germany were raised by their mothers or grandparents, while others stayed in orphanages or adopted by Danish parents.