African American GIs in Cornwall

Photo credit: Kresen Kernow, GE/2/E/8174

Bodmin Keep has been working with the Imperial War Museum on a project to research the Second World War and its impact on communities in Cornwall. In the first phase of research in 2021, we unearthed information about the heritage of Bodmin’s own Walker Lines Industrial Estate, once an extensive army camp most notably home to US 29th Infantry Division GIs, from 1943 to 1944.

During this period the US Army was racially segregated and this practice continued while American troops were stationed in Britain and this is the focus of the second phase of our project. We are keen to hear from anyone with reminiscences or information about African American GI’s in Cornwall between 1942 and 1945.

As part of this project, we are hosting an exhibition developed by the Mixed Museum in collaboration with Dr Lucy Bland author of a book on the subject called ‘Brown Babies’.

US Army Services of Supply detachment in Southern England, c.1944, NARA. Image courtesy of Fold3

Brown Babies Exhibition 6 February- 15 April 2023

From 1942 onwards, three million American GIs passed through the UK on route to Europe, some 240,000 (8%) of these were African-American. The majority of black GIs were conscripted to non-combat support units. Social spaces such as pubs and dances were segregated too and naturally relationships formed between GIs and local women.

The title of the exhibition comes from the name given to British mixed-race babies by the African-American Press. ‘Brown Babies’ gives voice to some of the 2000 mixed-race children born from these relationships and explains what happened afterwards.

‘Brown Babies’ can be seen at Bodmin Keep – Cornwall’s Army Museum from 6 February-15 April 2023. The museum opens from Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm (last entry time 4pm).

‘Brown Babies’ – a living history’ Webinar
Saturday 11 March | 11am-12pm online
Tickets: Free

Online webinar with Dr Lucy Bland, Professor of Social and Cultural History at Anglia Ruskin University and Dr Chamion Caballero, Director of The Mixed Museum with guests Arlene and Dave talking about their experiences as ‘brown babies’ growing up after the war.

Photo credit: Kresen Kernow, GE/2/E/8172c

The Americans in CornwallStudy Day

Saturday 25 March | 10am-4pm at Bodmin Keep

This day brings together the different strands of research undertaken during this project.

10-4pm: George Ellis slideshow on projector, Brown Babies exhibition panels and general engagement with community members.

10am-11am   Walk the Walker Lines

Walking tour with Charlotte Marchant, researcher as your guide

11.30-12:30pm  The Americans in Cornwall

A talk sharing new research from the US 29th Division Archive and George Ellis Archive with Charlotte Marchant

2-4pm    ‘Brown Babies – a living history’

Dr Lucy Bland, Professor of Social and Cultural History at Anglia Ruskin University, author of ‘Brown Babies’ will talk about her research and Dr Chamion Caballero, Director of The Mixed Museum will talk about the process of developing the exhibition with the testimonials of Brown Babies from across the UK.