The Mixed Museum at Bodmin Keep Army Museum
Did you know that during World War 2, African-American GIs were stationed in Cornwall?
We are part of two events at the Cornwall-based army museum Bodmin Keep in March 2023 exploring the Black GI presence in Cornwall.
Events at Bodmin Keep
Brown Babies – a living history (webinar)
Saturday 11 March | 11am-12pm | online
Online webinar with Charlotte Marchant (Bodmin Keep), Professor Lucy Bland (Anglia Ruskin University), Dr Chamion Caballero (The Mixed Museum) and guests Arlene Nelson and Dave Greene talking about their first hand experiences as ‘Brown Babies’ growing up after the war.
The Americans in Cornwall (study day)
Saturday 25 March | 10am-4pm | Bodmin Keep
This day will bring together the different strands of research undertaken by Bodmin Keep. As well as presentations and panel discussions by the Bodmin Keep team, Chamion and Lucy will give a talk on the 'Brown Babies' history.
Bodmin Keep is also currently hosting the travelling version of the 'Brown Babies' paper banner exhibition – which informed our own award-winning digital exhibition – until 31 March.
To find out more and book, visit What's On at Bodmin Keep
Black GIs in Cornwall
An estimated 240,000 African American GIs were based in England between 1942-1945, including in Cornwall. The most well known history connnected to their presence there is when the racial harrassment of Black soldiers by white American soldiers erupted in gunfire at Launceston. The event, labelled a ‘wild west’ mutiny by the tabloids, became front page news in Great Britain and the USA.=
The US Army was racially segregated until 1948 and controversially, this practice continued while American troops were stationed in Britain. Despite the racial prejudice that was deeply entrenched in British society alongside official attempts to prevent interracial contact, the friendliness of Britons towards Black GIs during the early years of World War II has been well documented. The American call for segregation was frequently viewed by the British public as lacking a sense of ‘fair play’ and created a sympathy for Black Americans as well as a resentment against ‘the authorities’.
Shockingly to the Americans, in many cases of overt racial discrimination, as well as in physical altercations with white GIs and the military police, white Britons frequently took the side of Black soldiers. The Ministry of Information reported that British pubs produced door signs reading ‘for British people and coloured Americans only’ and that British bus conductors encouraged Black servicemen not to give up seats for white American soldiers as ‘they were in England now.’
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.
The 'Brown Babies' of WW2
Attitudes started to harden towards the Black GI presence however with the growing visibility of what the Black American press dubbed the ‘brown babies’: the children born to Black GIs and white British women. Our ‘Brown Babies’ exhibition features interviews with over 60 of these estimated 2000 children, some of whom - such as John Fugler - were born in Cornwall.
New research in Cornwall - can you help?
While undertaking research on the US military in Cornwall for Bodmin Keep, researcher Charlotte Marchant uncovered photographs taken by freelance photographer George Ellis of groups of African American GIs based at a camp in Grampound Road. Bodmin Keep have been working hard to uncover more details about the Black GI presence in Cornwall, including asking the public to come forwards with any memories or information.
If you would like to get in touch, please contact us (email@example.com) or Bodmin Keep directly.