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THERE WAS one problem of coalition war which neither Churchill nor his cabinet had foreseen: he had discovered that by an edict of General Marshall ten per cent of the American troops coming over were to be Black; that was far too many. The United States were shipping tens of thousands of Negro troops into the southern British Isles which had hitherto been almost entirely white. Nor had the British received, as they had silently hoped, the upper ten per cent, the elite of those Blacks; one-third of those GI's currently in British prisons were Black. The cabinet was united in recognising the problems, chief among which was the over-friendly response by what they considered to be an ill-informed British public to these newcomers. Eden]At one meeting Anthony Eden (right) articulated fears that American troops would be offended to see certain sections of the British people displaying 'more effusiveness' to the coloured people than they did.[94] While the wealthier classes kept the Negroes at the same healthy distance as did the White GIs, observed Eden, the frustrated and man-starved English country girls, lacking the same racial consciousness, saw no reason not to fraternise, and frequent affrays between American and British troops were the result.[95] One Member of Parliament told Lord Halifax on July 23 how difficult things were, what with the factory girls in his constituency throwing themselves at the Negro troops; it was, he added, in no way the fault of the latter.[96] Many other Members also wrote anxious letters to the war office about the arrival of Negro troops. Several ministers expressed disquiet, among them the Colonial Secretary and the Lord Chancellor. All told, there was a risk that this war might change the fair face of England for a long time to come.

Churchill had assured Sulzberger that he fully understood Eleanor Roosevelt's well-publicised concern for the Negroes' status; he observed that American politics were now bedevilled by race, as each side pandered to the Black vote. His motives for saying this were, it seemed, of deeper root. Twice during their luncheon at Chequers he remarked to Sulzberger that there were depraved women who lusted sexually for Blacks -- 'It makes them feel something they have missed for years,' he said.[97] Sulzberger told Lord Halifax on his return to Washington that the prime minister had been 'a great deal concerned about Negro troops and how they ought to be used, and saw very clearly the dangers of quartering them in areas where nobody had seen a coloured man before.'[98] 'The fact that the English treat our coloured people without drawing the race line,' he told Henry Stimson, 'was sure to make for trouble in the end.' When Stimson admitted that they were encountering difficulties everywhere on that score, the newspaper publisher suggested that they concentrate the Negroes in the crowded English ports rather than in rural areas, where they were more likely to get into trouble.[99] The syndicated columnist Walter Lippmann made substantially the same recommendation after visiting England.[100] Recognising how sensitive the race issue was, Stimson asked Roosevelt to persuade Eleanor not to interfere during her forthcoming trip to England.[101]

In fact Churchill had already raised the matter with Harry Hopkins and General Marshall during July, stating that there had been serious racial disturbances involving Negro troops in Londonderry in Northern Ireland.[102] His own views on the coloured peoples were robust, if primitive. At a cabinet discussion on July 27 on the disciplinary powers to be exercised by Indian army officers he let fly a flood of 'childish' objections to allowing the poor, harassed British soldier to be bossed around by 'a brown man.'

'Except Grigg,' noted Amery, 'nobody really agreed with him, but they none of them will speak out when Winston is in a tantrum.'[103]


IT WAS a serious dilemma and Churchill's government, unlike its successors, tried to face up to it. Washington ignored all hints that it should adjust the coloured influx. At the end of August 1942 Eden regretted to the cabinet that 'the United States authorities were still sending over the full authorised proportion of coloured troops (about 10 per cent),' and that given the likely problems they should again press the Americans to stem the flow.[104] The cabinet agreed that they should do what they could to keep English women -- and White soldiers -- away from this dusky newcomer with 'his good qualities and his weaker ones.'[105] At Grigg's advice the cabinet decided on October 13 that it was desirable that the British people should avoid becoming 'too friendly' with the Negro American troops. Their own troops should be lectured by senior officers -- putting nothing on paper; chief constables should be alerted to the problem; and selected newspaper editors should be supplied with media packs enlightening them on the colour question in the United States.[106]

The problem grew more acute as more Blacks arrived over the next two years. They were mustered into segregated units, mostly engineering and labour, housed in segregated camps, and provided with equal but segregated facilities like Red Cross Clubs.

The British population, unfamiliar with the problems of race experienced by the United States, saw no reason either to differentiate or to segregate. Editors at The Sunday Pictorial and The Sunday Express published unhelpful editorials clamouring that the colour bar operated by the Americans must go. Their officers -- who were almost all White -- were again shocked by the loose behaviour of the British women, who actually seemed to single out the downtrodden Blacks for their sympathies. The women were however not the only ones blamed. Once, when American military police tried to arrest Negro troops, British civilians intervened shouting, 'They don't like the Blacks,' and 'Why don't they leave them alone?' A Black mutiny resulted, with court-martial charges.

By late October 1943, 38,179 Negro troops had arrived. Putting his finger on what he saw as the real problem, the secretary for war [Grigg] wrote to Churchill: 'I expect that the British soldier who fears for the safety or faithfulness of his women-folk at home, would not feel so keenly as the B.B.C. and the public at home appear to do in favour of a policy of no colour bar and complete equality of treatment of Negro troops.'[107]

ChurchillChurchill expressed his anxiety to Grigg, and asked for the relevant figures.[108] Providing to No. 10 the requested statistics on murder, attempted murder, 'carnal knowledge,' and rape committed by these Negro troops, the Duke of Marlborough, attached to the office of the U.S. Army's provost-marshal, urgently counselled taking preventive action before it was too late. Local people, he said, were now frightened to go out after dark where these troops were stationed. The figures showed that five times more Black than White troops had contracted venereal diseases, the curse of every great war. Moreover, 'The existence of the drug marijuana (a form of hasheesh) has been found in the possession of coloured troops' -- they believed that the drug if given to unsuspecting women might 'excite their sexual desires.' The trickle of mulatto children on its way into England's ancient people was about to become a tide.[109]

Churchill was shocked, and passed the figures on to the war office, while asking them to keep the Duke's name out of it.[110] Grigg discussed the behaviour of the American Negro troops with General Jacob Devers, the theatre commander. Devers assured him he had the situation in hand. Writing to the prime minister Grigg blamed the high incidence of crime and V.D. on the Americans having deliberately selected the worst elements among the Negro troops for the European theatre, and on their 'exuberance . . . on coming overseas.' The statistics showed that Negroes were committing twice as many sex offences as White troops, and five times as many other crimes of violence. In both cases, lamented Grigg, the root cause was 'the natural propensities of the coloured man.' Since there was going to be a vast increase in the number of Negro troops based in England in the spring of 1944, there were no grounds for complacency.[111]


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Source notes



95 Eisenhower, 66-7. The phrase 'lacking racial consciousness' is his.

96 Halifax diary, Jul 23, 1942 (Hickleton papers, A.7.8.10). The MP was Wing Cdr. James.

97 Sulzberger (see note 95). Halifax diary, Sep 25, 1942 (Hickleton papers, A.7.8.11); and cf. Oct 13, 1942 (ibid.).

98 Halifax diary, Sep 25, 1942 (Hickleton papers, A.7.8.11); and cf. Oct 13, 1942 (ibid.).

99 Stimson diary, Sep 24, 1942.

100 Ibid., Sep 29, Oct 2, 1942.

101 Ibid.

102 Hopkins to Marshall, Aug 19. Hopkins advised Sir Ronald Campbell on Aug 22 that Marshall had informed him that the policy was not to exceed 10·6 per cent of total US army strength; at present the coloured strength in the U.K. was 5,683 (ibid.). Butcher diary, 128V, Aug 15, 18, 1942, unsealed. Ray Daniell of the NYT urged Eisenhower to keep these rules.

103 Amery diary, Jul 27, 1942.

104War Cabinet, Aug 31, 1942.

105 Grigg, paper, WP (42) 441, Sep 1942: 'United States Coloured Troops in the United Kingdom' (prem.4/26/9; cab.66/30); The Sunday Pictorial, Sep 6; and Sunday Express, Sep 20, 1942.

106 War Cabinet, Oct 13, 1942, in the House of Commons (cab.65/28).

107 Grigg to WSC, Oct 21, 1943 (prem.4/26/9).

108 WSC to Grigg, Oct 20, 1943 (ibid.).

109 Duke of Marlborough to WSC, Oct 21 (ibid.).

110 WSC to Grigg, Oct 22, 1943 (ibid.).

111 Grigg to WSC, Dec 2, 1943 (ibid.).

112 FBI memorandum, Mar 29, 1943 on 'off the record' remarks (by Harriman? Sulzberger?) to newspapermen (FBI archives, Washington).

113 Amery diary, Sep 9, 1942.

114 Ibid., Aug 31, 1942.

115 Halifax diary, Sep 28 (Hickleton papers, A.7.8.11); on Oct 26, 1942, Halifax commented dryly on 'the American . . . habit of lynching Negroes, which as the lynching of three in Mississippi last week shows, is not yet out of fashion' (ibid.).


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