During the 1940s, the face of the UK changed when thousands of American troops came to train for D-Day. It’s thought at least 100,000 (and possibly up to 300,000) of these soldiers, mostly GIs, were African American – the biggest black population the UK had seen at this time. As well as glamour and cultural influences – dances, sports and music – the US Army brought with it segregation, or ‘Jim Crow’ laws, which the British government largely went along with (although we didn’t have a ‘colour bar’ here). The contributions these men made, their relationships with British people and the children they left behind, has until recently, largely been forgotten.
Troops were stationed in areas including Lancashire, East Anglia, South Wales and the South and South West. White and black troops were largely kept separate. The black troops (who usually received lower pay than the whites and weren’t allowed guns) did menial jobs such as cooking, driving trucks and building barracks and air bases. There were many fights between the segregated troops, who were often allocated ‘black’ and ‘white’ nights and spaces, and some black GIs were killed by their white colleagues.