Emmy-winning journalist Regina Griffin was inspired to tell a story and that’s how her film, Brown Babies: The Mischlingskinder Story was born.
A family friend, entrepreneur Doris McMillon, had told stories about growing up the half-Black, half-White child of a Black G.I. and White German woman and the story was horrifying. Unwanted by both nations, the children often lived their lives as unwanted, ignored and forgotten people,
“I got chills learning about their lives, in orphanages and beyond,” said Griffin.
Griffin transformed her research into a documentary about the lives of the babies. The film was screened recently in front of about 50 people at the William McGowan Theater located at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The film scrapes the surface of the difficulties that resulted from the interracial relationships between Black soldiers and German women during World War II. Many of the children ended up being adopted or sent to orphanages because their German mothers feared the public scrutiny that came with having a mixed-race child out of wedlock.
Some of the Black soldiers who wanted to marry their German girlfriends found it difficult because the relationships were viewed as forbidden. Those who wanted to return home to the African-American girlfriends and sometimes wives didn’t want to bring along children whose presence would indicate they had been unfaithful.
The children were caught in the middle.
“Sixty years later, some people were still dealing with their demons,” Griffin said. “So out of this desire to learn about their lives and their personal struggle and preserve their history, I found my something that mattered.”
Griffin said that although she had produced news stories, she had never produced a documentary. She had no idea if she could do it or if anybody would ever see it besides her family.
But after making the film, she decided to enter it into the American Black Film Festival. The movie went on to win best documentary upon its first screening at the festival.
Though many of the children did not live happy lives, some found angels, like Mabel Grammer, a Black socialite and journalist for the AFRO-American newspaper who found homes for about 500 of the babies. She and her husband, Oscar, also adopted 12 of the children.
“Once I learned about her, I knew I wanted her to be a big part of it,” Griffin said.
Griffin spoke with people who knew Grammer, who died in 2002. Grammer wrote stories about the babies and even a news story entitled “How to Adopt a Brown Baby.”
Grammer made it possible for African American families to adopt Brown Babies.
But working to find homes for Brown Babies made Grammer a target to those who did not understand her mission. She was accused of not doing background checks on potential adoptive parents and reaching out to families by methods as impersonal as the mail.
Griffin noted that Grammer’s “heart was in the right place,” though mistakes were made along the way.
Daniel Cardwell, a Brown baby who grew up in the District of Columbia, said his parents were among the first adoptive parents that Grammer matched with children. He said after a 25-year search for his German biological mother, at a cost of $250,000, when he finally learned where she was, she was dead.
In the documentary, he said he was eager to meet his mother in heaven. He did not mention his father.
The documentary, Brown Babies: The Mischlingskinder Story is available for use to libraries, schools and museums. For more information about the film, visit http://brownbabiesfilm.com/.