Museum Preserves

Mixed-Race History

Pauline Nevins February 17, 2021 - Auburn Journal 

Why is your sister brown?” a neighbor boy asked. “She fell in a bucket of paint,” was my kid brother’s innocent reply.

The question was understandable. I was the sister, the only dark-skinned child among seven other kids in our family, who lived in a country town in England’s East Midlands, where cloud cover prevented even a hint of a tan.

For a time, people of color were a rarity in the British Isles in other than the major port cities. That changed in 1948 when the Empire Windrush, loaded with smiling dark-skinned men, sailed into London’s Tilbury Dock. Invited by the British Government, they filled a chronic labor shortage following devastating losses of young men in World War II. People knew so little about Britain’s racial history that this large influx from the Caribbean was generally credited with the largest growth of a post-war Black British population.

To fill the void of the country’s racial history, British academics Dr. Chamion Caballero, who’s mixed race, and Peter J. Aspinall undertook a research project on people of color in 20th-century Britain. Their research became the foundation for the critically acclaimed BBC2 series in 2011: “Mixed Britannia.”

This series inspired Dr. Lucy Bland, Professor of Social and Cultural History at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, to delve into the history of children born during and after World War II, whose fathers were Black American GIs and whose mothers were white British women who offered the soldiers a bit more than tea and crumpets. Professor Bland exposed a little-known and often-painful part of Britain’s past.