“Germany’s ‘Brown Babies’ Must Be Helped! Will You?”: U.S. Adoption Plans for Afro-German Children, 1950-1955

“Germany’s ‘Brown Babies’ Must Be Helped! Will You?”: U.S. Adoption Plans for Afro-German Children, 1950-1955

Volume 26, Number 2 (Spring 2003)
pages 342-362
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2003.0052
E-ISSN: 1080-6512 Print ISSN: 0161-2492

Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria

This essay explores the debate that arose around the adoption of Black German children by African American parents and the subsequent immigration of these children to the United States. Using a comparative approach, the article probes the underlying internal social and political controversies in postwar Germany and the United States that led to and accompanied these events, concluding that both the plans for and practical implementation of the adoption of these Black German children abroad was an complex and contradictory attempt to solve the “problem” a German-born Black population was seen to pose.

Scattered throughout Europe today there are thousands of “war orphans”—children of European girls and American soldiers who loved and left. Hundreds of these homeless children are the offspring of Negro soldiers and their mulatto status makes adoption by European families extremely unlikely. But in America there are hundreds of childless Negro couples who wish to adopt these “war babies” and bring them to the U.S. Up to now government red tape has prevented all but a trickle from being adopted. (“German War Babies”)

In January 1951, an article was published in the African-American magazine Ebony with the above-cited headline. The article chronicled the story of an African-American teacher, Margaret Ethel Butler, who since 1947 had been attempting to adopt two Afro-German children and arrange their immigration to the United States. On 4 October 1951, nine months after the article appeared, Margaret E. Butler fas finally able to welcome her much longed-for adopted children at the Chicago airport. These two German children, born of African-American occupation soldiers and German women, are considered the first such children to be adopted and arrive in the U.S. after the war.

The adoption of these two Afro-German children (a boy and a girl of five and six years of age) who, until their departure for the U.S., had lived in a Rheingau orphanage was the result of a bureaucratic battle waged by Margaret E. Butler over a period of many years. It was in 1947 that she first learned of the discrimination facing many Afro-German children in Germany through an article in the Chicago Tribune, at which point she decided to adopt two of these children. Her initial inquiries, including a journey to the children’s orphanage in Germany, were followed by countless requests and petitions, as well as further visits to Germany. Soon Margaret E. Butler became known as the Butler Case, a phenomenon widely documented in both the West German and the African-American press.

In the following pages, will explore several aspects of the public response to this group of German occupation children in Germany and the U.S. I begin with an examination of the motives which led German and American organizations and individuals in both countries to perceive Afro-German children as potential adoptees for the U.S. The first section looks at the crucial role of the Black press and the NAACP

Read or purchase the article here.
Also read, “Reflections on the ‘Brown Babies’ in Germany: the Black Press and the NAACP,” in The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs, and Germany.

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