Race, Gender, and Policy
after World War II
BRENDA GAYLE PLUMMER
“Brown babies,” a euphemism the black press popularized, were the children born of European women and African American soldiers during the World War II era. Their confused civil status, mixed-race identity, and urgent material needs engaged the complex intersection of race and gender as it unfolded after 1945. Brown babies were born as regimes of racial domination toppled in Europe and Asia, and as racist ideologies lost credibility in the United States. U.S. legal segregation survived the Third Reich, but the seeds of its demise had already germinated by war's end. Existentially at the margins of the postwar experience, mixed-race war orphans embodied the conflicts over fundamental meanings that so characterized the age. This essay examines these children's place in the broader context of postwar decision making and demonstrates the intimate relationship between their plight and American designs for the future, two subjects generally treated as entirely separate in historical scholarship.
By 1945 the army had already circumscribed the status of mulatto children yet to be born. In the European Theater of Operations (ETO), commanding officers could veto or approve GI marriages on their own discretion. Few black soldiers were allowed to marry British and Italian women, for example, even when they had fathered their children. 1 Commanding officers likewise blocked interracial marriages in Germany, where some 1,500 brown babies were born. The brass's interest in racial endogamy took priority over the welfare of children as they sought to preserve proprietary attitudes toward women and the racist and sexist social divisions maintained in peacetime at home. The brown babies' story captures the United States at an important time of transition, before contemporary attitudes naturalized the practice of interracial adoption and when the public perceived mixed-race children as novelties.
In the 1940s and 1950s, mixed-race families were uncommon objects of curiosity and disapproval. The initial military response toward the brown babies involved secrecy and suppression. Social workers, including the sympathetic, joined U.S. Army authorities in trying to quiet the issue, claiming