Timeline 1900 – 2017

The Babies They Left Behind Them

On 23rd August 1948, Life magazine published a feature entitled ‘The Babies They Left Behind Them’ which highlighted the ‘brown baby problem’ as the estimated 1,000-2,000 children from the relationships between black GIs and white British women were commonly referred to. Although some of these babies were raised by their white mothers, many others were given up for adoption due to the social stigma of having not only a ‘brown’ child, but one that was usually born out of wedlock. Between mid-1944 and the end of 1947 the government was involved in intensive discussions across its own departments and with voluntary bodies and local medical officials about how to respond to these concerns. The American magazine Newsweek wrote of this matter as presenting an ‘insoluble problem to the British’ in 1947. A widely canvassed solution, particularly amongst black American and black British community leaders, was for the children to be shipped to the US and to live with their fathers or be adopted by black families. This idea, however, was eventually dropped – not only because, under British law, children were only allowed to be sent abroad to live with British subjects but also due to misgivings by officials about the extent of racial discrimination in the US, as well as the impression exporting ‘brown babies’ would give to Britain’s colonies. So the majority of the children remained in Britain, many into state care where ‘their colour made adoption unlikely’ (Smith 1987). The Ministry of Health declined to get involved in the direct provision of homes and hostels, arguing that they should be integrated into existing homes if they could not be cared for by a parent. Pastor G Daniel Ekarte, Minister and Founder of the African Churches Mission, took many these ‘brown babies’ into his homes in Liverpool between 1945 and 1949.

Many of these children are still seeking information about their fathers. Sadly, even when their fathers tried to find them or care for them, their efforts were frequently hindered by either the British or American authorities, such as in the case of Denise Smith’s case, who had been placed in a children’s home. None of her father’s letters were ever passed on to his daughter, Denise and he died before she ever met him.

I have addressed several letters regarding Denise but have received no answer. I would thank you very much to know where she is, and how she’s getting along. I’d like to send her something. I also wrote asking if it was possible to please send a photograph of Denise, I’m very [illegible] and will contribute to her support as much as I’m able.

How old will Denise have to be before she’s able to journey to America without an escort?

I do hope to hear from you soon regarding this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Turner Powell

— Brown Babies, Touch Productions. First broadcast on Channel 4, 11 October 1999.