Timeline 1900 – 2024

Black GIs, English women, and ‘brown babies’

During the period 1942-45 around one million US servicemen were based in England as part of the preparations for the invasion of Europe in June 1944 and around 130,000 (13%) of these were Black (African American) GIs. This caused endless worry for British officials who were reluctant to support American segregation practices formally, but were nevertheless highly concerned about the possible growth of interracial relationships and ‘half-caste babies’ in Britain. British authorities tried to discourage relationships between white British women and black – and other minority ethnic – troops in a number of ways: social segregation at dance halls, pubs and cinemas, restrictions put on female military staff, police surveillance and ‘whispering campaigns’.  These actions did little, however, to stop these interracial relationships. The black troops tended to be popular with Britons, who tended to oppose the American idea of segregation, and they were particularly popular with white British women, much to the angry bewilderment of white American GIs.

Although propaganda put out by American and British authorities began to influence the attitude of the British public towards the black GIs by the end of the war in a more negative way, their popularity with many white British women remained steadfast. In 1945, hundreds of young women, denied the opportunity to say goodbye to their black GI boyfriends, linked arms and marched on a Bristol barracks singing the Bing Crosby hit ‘Don’t Fence Me In’: barriers were broken down and the gates of the railway station were rushed, the women crying ‘To hell with the US Army colour bars! We want our coloured sweethearts!’ Unfortunately, it was very difficult for these relationships to continue as, at that time, interracial marriage was illegal in about twenty American states.

One thing I’ve noticed here and which I don’t like is the fact that the English don’t draw any color line. I’ve seen nice looking English girls out with American Negro soldiers as black as the ace of spades. I have not only seen the Negro boys dancing with the white girls, but we have actually seen them standing in doorways kissing the girls goodnight.

— A white lieutenant from Wellingborough, USA, 1943. Source Smith (1987)

West Indian soldiers: Jacobs WW2 from Mixed Britannia, BBC Two, TX October 2011. Copyright BBC