Our new project ‘Mapping Black GI bases in East Anglia’

Building on recent collaborations with Professor Lucy Bland and researcher Charlotte Marchant, The Mixed Museum is delighted to have received funding from Anglia Ruskin University’s Safe & Inclusive Communities Fund to support research into the locations of Black GIs bases in East Anglia during WW2.

Using material in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, USA, the project team will identify the locations of the bases in the region, explore how digital mapping could help showcase the findings, and develop plans to identify all Black GI bases in the UK.

Two archival photographs of Black GIs undertaking building work in Framlington
827 Engineer Aviation Battalion Company in Framlingham, Suffolk during early 1944. Ref: Unit History of 827th Engineer Aviation Battalion; Engineer Section Administrative Division, Engineer Unit Histories; Record Group 498; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

Background to 'Mapping Black GI bases in East Anglia' project

During World War II, the presence of Black American GIs stationed in the UK had a profound impact on local communities. One of the requests The Mixed Museum most frequently receives is whether we can help people find their Black GI fathers or grandfathers, including identifying which British base they may have been stationed at.

Sadly, most people who get in touch have very little information about their fathers. Governmental policy and practice – both American and British – greatly impeded these families’ lives. The estimated 2000 ‘brown babies’ in Britain – the name given to them by the African American press - were born illegitimate as the US commanding officers refused the Black GIs permission to marry their girlfriends, citing the illegality of interracial marriage in most US states. If kept by their mother, they were often the only mixed race child in a white rural area, with their mother heavily stigmatised. For those placed in children’s homes, policies not to place mixed race children for adoption meant many languished in the care system.

We explore these issues further in our award-winning digital exhibition ‘Brown Babies’ of WW2, curated in partnership with Professor Lucy Bland whose work has been so instrumental in contributing to wider public knowledge about the history of Black GIs in Britain and the families they left behind.

February 1944 ETOUSA Station List showing various 827 Engineer Aviation Battalion units stationed in Suffolk.
February 1944 ETOUSA Station List showing various 827 Engineer Aviation Battalion units stationed in Suffolk. Ref: HQ/ETO - 1/21/44 Headquarters, European Theater of Operations Station List; Record Group 407; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

Finding Black GIs in Britain

While we know that Black GIs were based throughout Britain and Northern Ireland, the exact physical locations of their units remain largely uncharted. One exception is Cornwall, where researcher Charlotte Marchant uncovered the specific locations of Black GI units in Bodmin. Charlotte discussed her innovative work during her placement at Bodmin Keep Army Museum as well as the potential impact of her findings in a guest post she wrote for The Mixed Museum in March 2023. Importantly, Charlotte's work suggests that with the size of the Black GI units in Cornwall much larger than previously thought, the estimated 2000 ‘brown babies’ born in Britain may also be a significant underestimate.

Building upon the success of her Cornwall-based research, Charlotte will use undigitised records at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington to help identify the locations of Black GI bases in East Anglia. Charlotte, Lucy and our Director, Dr Chamion Caballero will then use the findings to explore how digital mapping could be used to display the locations of the bases and other aspects of the Black GIs presence in Britain.

Supporting the team: our current intern

Joining the team will be The Mixed Museum’s latest UCL intern, Ivan Lin. Ivan, who is undertaking a Digital Humanities MSc at University College London, is currently based at The Mixed Museum as part of his degree placement. During his time with us, Ivan will be helping Charlotte, Chamion and Lucy explore digital mapping options. We'll be sharing more about Ivan's role supporting the project team next month.

We hope this pilot project will help us make a compelling case for funding for a larger collaborative interactive mapping project application preserving and sharing the history of Black GIs and ‘brown babies’ families in Britain. We are very grateful to Anglia Ruskin University for funding the project through their Safe & Inclusive Communities funding scheme.

Learn more

Read Charlotte's guest blog post about her work mapping Black GI bases in Bodmin, Cornwall

Learn the history behind the project at our award-winning 'Brown Babies of WW2' digital exhibition

Find out about Chamion and Lucy's trip to Bodmin Army Keep Museum in March 2023 as part of the Keep's Americans in Cornwall Study Day

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