New Documentary Highlights Mixed-Race Offspring of Soldiers
Daniel Cardwell was a “brown baby.” He found his mother after stumbling upon a newspaper article about himself while attending Howard University.
“What was a brown baby?” Cardwell asked a crowd gathered in the east ballroom of the Armour J. Blackburn University Center.
“A brown baby was someone searching for Mama, someone searching for love, a place to belong,” he answered.
Cardwell and journalist Dorris McMillon were on campus this week for a screening and panel discussion of “Brown Babies: The Mischlingskinder Story.” The documentary is the story of Cardwell, McMillon and four other so-called brown babies who were born in postwar-occupation Germany to German mothers and African American soldiers. These biracial children fell victim to their enemies who made them feel unwanted, abandoned and rejected. The word “mischlingskinder” means mixed race.
According to the film, 100,000 German babies were born to African American troops and German women during the 1950s. From 1954 to 1955, that number would increase to 500,000. Women who dated or had children with black soldiers were kicked out of their homes, disowned by their parents and shunned by their entire families.
“It was very difficult to marry back then,” journalist Heide Fehrenbach said. Permission was needed on both ends. Soldiers needed permission from their commanding officers, and the women had to undergo a series of mental and physical tests.
Brown babies were three times more likely to be given up for adoption. A woman by the name of Mabel Grammer, a socialite and journalist for the Afro-American newspaper in Baltimore, found a home for an estimated 500 brown babies.
Beonca Duncan, a junior public relations major, was shocked to hear that number. “She essentially did all of this by herself,” Duncan said. “That’s amazing. She saved a lot of children’s lives; that’s admirable.”
Grammer located African American families from the states to adopt orphan brown babies. She even went as far as placing an article in her newspaper titled “How to Adopt a Brown Baby.” Her article included financing as well as other necessary information she thought should be included.
Grammer and her husband, Oscar Grammer, adopted children as well. They had a total of 12 children. “She had a heart and a real passion for what she did,” Duncan said. “It wasn’t just for show.” But soon controversy arose that left Grammer having to answer a slew of questions from reporters and investigators.
According to Fehrenbach, they thought Grammer matched these children to their adoptive parents too quickly. There were rumors of no background checks being done and accusations that Grammer hadn’t met the adoptive parents, conducting everything by mail instead.
“After the children were adopted it was said that there were no house visits, inspections or counseling sessions,” Fehrenbach said.
Grammer stuck to her guns. She fired right back defending her love for trying to find homes for these orphans. Soon enough the accusations stopped, and people realized Grammer did not plan to back down.
“If we died today, we know the story was told and we’re grateful for that,” said McMillon, a newscaster and producer. McMillon and her German mother embraced each other in a warm hug the first time they met.
“I grew up in an abusive home,” said McMillon, now president and chief strategic officer for McMillon Communications Inc. “When my foster parents died is when I found my mother and father. She felt guilty for giving me up. I told her I lived the better life.”
Cardwell said, “It took me over 25 years before I got to the graveyard and at least a quarter of a million dollars,” he said. “Peter Grammer said, ‘I never had to search for my mother because I had one. I could never say that.”
“I can sleep at night now,” Cardwell said. “We’re better able to live with ourselves.”
“Brown Babies” won best documentary at the African American Black Film Festival in 2011. Regina Griffin, a journalist and executive producer of “Brown Babies,” said, “It was my duty to tell the story the best way I could.” Griffin is also an Emmy award-winning news producer formerly of CBS News and is now the executive producer of Sunday morning programming at WUSA-TV.
“I think what Regina Griffin did with this documentary is phenomenal,” Ayja Allen, a sophomore biology major, said. “This film will open up a lot of people’s eyes; it’s something everyone needs to see.”
What about the brown babies who never left Germany?
“It’s still racism there,” McMillon said. “After I first met my mother, she told me about all the hate phone calls and mail she received because she met with me. She told me she didn’t want her face on anything because the still had to live there. Things haven’t changed.”