Brown Babies

Reflections on the “Brown Babies” in Germany: the Black Press and the NAACP
By Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria

Between 1945 and 1955, an estimated 67,770 children were born to soldiers of the occupying forces and German women in the Federal Republic of Germany. Of these children, 4,776 children were the children of African American and Moroccan soldiers. The fate of this generation of Afro-German children (or “brown babies” as they were called in the U.S.) was the focus of public interest both in West Germany and the U.S.

During the 1940s and 50s, popular and scholarly publications in both countries printed detailed reports on these “brown babies” (“Mischlingskinder”) who were the subject of intense political and pedagogical debates and controversies. Indeed, both state institutions and private organizations in Germany and in the U.S. devoted considerable time and effort to planning out their lives. What underlay the public debate on the fate of Afro-German children both in postwar Germany and the U.S. was a very specific construction of their heritage—one that defined them as essentially “fremd” (both in the sense of “strange” and “Other” and, at the same time, “foreign” or “alien”), “not belonging and at risk in Germany.” Their German nationality and their socialization in the country of their birth were, thus, only of secondary interest. In other words, their national and cultural heritage were regarded as contrasting directly with their race. Consequently, an ambivalent and contradictory attitude developed toward them both in hypothetical discussions and in the concrete actions taken in their name. The debate around these Afro-German children reveals a paradoxical and shifting dynamic of caretaking and marginalization, inclusion and exclusion.

The significance of the debates surrounding the Afro-German children in the U.S. context can best be illustrated by examining the response articulated in two of the most prevalent forums of African American public life and popular opinion of the time: the black press (in particular, four of the most widely read newspapers: The Pittsburgh Courier, The Afro-American, The Chicago Defender, and Ebony) and the African American civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The black press and the NAACP comprised voices that spoke out vehemently against the social exclusion of Afro-German children in Germany between 1947 and 1960. In the course of this debate, two opposing positions emerged. One side argued that these children should be integrated into German society and be given the opportunity of a secure life with equal rights in their homeland. The other maintained that the children could not be guaranteed a secure future in Germany and should, thus, be immediately removed (i.e., rescued) and brought to the United States. Clearly, both positions—the integration of the children into German society, and their adoption by African Americans—were not only expressed in political and pedagogical debates but were later followed by practical measures of social intervention.


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Transatlantic Adoption: Mabel A. Grammer and the Brown Baby Plan
By Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria

Mabel A. Grammer, an African American journalist working for the Afro-American and the wife of an administrative officer stationed in Mannheim from 1950 to 1954, arranged for the immigration of Afro-German children to the U.S. through what became a well-known adoption program, the much publicized Brown Baby Plan, which placed Afro-German children in African American homes. Many of these children were adopted “by proxy,” meaning that they had never seen their adoptive parents before their actual arrival in their new home.

Two things motivated Grammer to arrange the placement of Afro-German children in the U.S.: First, she personally witnessed discrimination against Afro-German children and their mothers on the streets of Mannheim. Second, numerous mothers had approached her directly and asked her to help find homes for their children in the U.S. for a number of reasons. These mothers had experienced poverty, illness, and the stigma of being known as an “Ami-hussy” or a “Nigger-whore,” and some of the children had resulted from rape; many of them found themselves in altered circumstances: their husbands had returned from POW camps, or they were in new marriages in which the Afro-German child was no longer wanted. Contrary to a common perception at the time, many mothers found the separation from their children difficult and heartbreaking. Nevertheless, adoption was often viewed as the best solution for the children. The mothers shared the conviction that a better future awaited their children in America. What they probably understood by “better” was, among other things, that the children would be economically better off in the U.S. and that they would be safer in a black community where they would not necessarily be the objects of discrimination and would not be denounced within their own families as the embodiment of illegitimacy as they were in Germany.

Grammer maintained that as long as Germany was unable to guarantee the equal treatment of white and black children, black children would be in better hands in the African American community. Her initiative welcomed by the German public, she was dubbed the “brown fairy” by one of the most popular daily newspapers, the Bild-Zeitung, for her work on behalf of Afro-German children. Newspaper reports described her project as a “children’s airlift through which the mixed-race children traveled to the USA.” The Mannheim-based Abendpost enthusiastically called Grammer “Mommie Mabel—mother of the colored occupation babies.”

However, the youth welfare bureau in Mannheim that had jurisdiction over many of the children fundamentally disapproved of Grammer’s activities. Grammer refused to inform the bureau of the placement or the arrangements for the transnational adoptions of its wards. Nonetheless, some of its lower officials eagerly took advantage of her contacts and aid.

Undoubtedly Grammer’s fight for a better life for these Afro-German children was simultaneously a fight for the recognition of African Americans as equal American citizens and as competent adoptive parents. With her private placement service, Grammer claimed the right to make such decisions autonomously and, more importantly, to set her own standards for future African American adoptive parents.

Without question, the exportation, both planned and realized, of these Afro-German children was deeply political in that it was often an external attempt to arbitrarily simplify the complex situation of German-born, non-white children. In the final analysis, the foreign adoption of Afro-German children was a means of achieving a convenient resolution of the internal tensions of two societies confronting their own and each other’s respective histories of oppression and domination—National Socialism and Jim Crow—in the immediate postwar period.

Today, the adoptees have begun to tell their own stories—stories about identity and the search for their own history and heritage. Through careful listening to the voices of Daniel Cardwell, Rosemarie Peña, and others, we now have the chance to learn about the individual lives of Afro-German Americans who were sent from Germany to a presumptively better life in the United States.

Further reading

Stephanie Siek: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs (Part I)
Spiegel Online – October 13, 2009
> more

Stephanie Siek: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs – Not the Only One (Part II)
Spiegel Online – October 13, 2009
> more

Stephanie Siek: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs – ‘A Sense of Identity’ (Part III)
Spiegel Online – October 13, 2009
> more

Daniel T. Cardwell: A Question of Color (2009)
> more

Kim Pearson: A Very Special Mother’s Day Story
www.BlogHer.com – May 11, 2008
> more

Rosemarie Pena: Staatenlos
www.BlogHer.com – April 10, 2008
> more

Terry Dean: Living with and learning from the past
www.wjinc.com – April 18, 2006
> more


Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria: Zwischen Fürsorge und Ausgrenzung
Afrodeutsche ‘Besatzungskinder’ im Nachkriegs-Deutschland (2002)

> more

Heide Fehrenbach: Race after Hitler:
Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America
 (2005)

> more

Doris McMillon: Mixed Blessing (1985)
> more

Black German Cultural Society (A NJ Non Profit Organization, BGCSNJ)
> more