Britain’s ‘brown babies’

Author: Lucy Bland

This book recounts the little-known history of the mixed-race children born to black American servicemen and white British women during the Second World War. Of the three million American soldiers stationed in Britain from 1942 to 1945, about 8 per cent (240,000) were African-American; the latter’s relationships with British women resulted in the birth of an estimated 2,000 babies. The African-American press named these children ‘brown babies’; the British called them ‘half-castes’. Black GIs, in this segregated army, were forbidden to marry their white girlfriends. Up to half of the mothers of these babies, faced with the stigma of illegitimacy and a mixed-race child, gave their children up for adoption. The outcome for these children tended to be long-term residency in children’s homes, sometimes followed by fostering and occasionally adoption, but adoption societies frequently would not take on ‘coloured’ children, who were thought to be ‘too hard to place’. There has been minimal study of these children and the difficulties they faced, such as racism in a (then) very white Britain, lack of family or a clear identity. Accessibly written and illustrated with numerous photographs, this book presents the stories of over forty of these children. While some of the accounts of early childhood are heart-breaking, there are also many uplifting narratives of finding American fathers and gaining a sense of self and of heritage.

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‘An important advancement of the historio-graphy and, due to its clear style and unique source material, is ideally suited for use in the classroom, as well. Graduate students will benefit in particular from Bland’s careful discussion of her methodology ; for undergraduates and graduate students alike, Bland’s skillful use of oral history and biographical material makes her book highly accessible and engaging.’
Res Militaris
June 2020

‘Lucy Bland’s book beautifully and carefully recovers the intimate, painful and sometimes joyous stories of Britain’s ‘brown babies’. […]  Throughout Bland writes with sensitivity, care and an astute sense of her positionality as interviewer, offering an exemplar of undertaking this essential oral history research. […]  Her meticulous attention to the ways in which these children navigated their own sense of belonging and difference – at home, in the care system, in British society and with their American families – is a tremendous achievement, with important findings for historians of migration, Black Britain, childhood and family alike.
Women's History
January 2019

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