Black American GIs, Park Street, Bristol - During World War II

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    During the Second World War, a large number of American troops were stationed in or near Bristol. They included black soldiers, who were based in Muller’s Orphanage on Ashley Down in Bristol. Bristol people were on the whole friendly towards the American soldiers, including the black soldiers. The white American soldiers were horrified to see white women dancing with black men. But there was no racism in Bristol’s institutions at that time.

    An actress working at Bristol’s Little Theatre during the war met a black American soldier in one of the city parks. He came up to talk to her and her friends. ‘He wasn’t trying to pick us up or anything. He explained that he was desperately lonely and how lovely it would be to talk to some women… So we invited him to tea.’

    At least one Bristol woman met and married a black American soldier. Patricia Edmead, who married Louis Edmead, remembered that the black Americans were ‘…so full of life… In spite of everything they had to put up with, they were so cheerful.’ And the black soldiers did have a lot to put up with. The white soldiers were used to an America where blacks and whites did not mix, and found it hard to cope with the different attitude towards black people in Britain.

    The American Military Police dealt with all American army problems in Britain.

    The Military Police were white and tended to deal more harshly with black soldiers than with white. In one case in Bristol, a local woman was prosecuted for trying to stop a Military Policeman from beating up a black American soldier. Black soldiers were also dealt with more harshly by the American system. American soldiers were under American law, even when stationed on British soil. Under American law, the sentence for rape was death. In British law rape had not been punishable by death since 1861. In Shepton Mallet jail in Somerset 29 American soldiers were hanged for rape, by the American Military Police.

    Out of this number, 25 were black. Yet less than 10% of the men in the American forces in Britain were black. Accusations of rape against black soldiers were common, and they were more likely to be hanged for it than their white companions. In the American army, black troops were in segregated or separate units. Black and white rarely mixed, which was not surprising since racial separation was still legal in many American states.

    Most of the black troops were used to do menial tasks, not as fighting troops. The 92nd Infantry Division were black frontline troops, who fought in the American Civil War, the Spanish American War and in the First and Second World Wars.

    Black Americans joined the fighting troops in the Second World War because they hoped it would help to change attitudes and gain civil rights for black Americans. What happened was that, after the war, the part played by black soldiers was ignored by their country and by history. Black soldiers were not allowed to march in victory parades when they got home. African-Americans had to wait longer for their civil rights.

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    blackpresence, attentionkid, and 31 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. Alan Woollard [deleted] 55 months ago | reply

      Very sad.

    2. positively one 52 months ago | reply

      amazing photo!!! Do you know what unit these men were apart of??

    3. brizzle born and bred 46 months ago | reply

      Sorry no further detail.

    4. taylorbill15 40 months ago | reply

      I appreciate you sharing this photo, as well as their experience.

    5. Ed Passi © 31 months ago | reply

      Interesting piece of history. I remember as a kid in postwar Far East my Mom mentioning how some white American soldiers she encountered then advising her not to trust or fraternize with their black counterparts. I had trouble understanding that at the time.

    6. Kaspar C 31 months ago | reply

      British TV some years ago highlighted a case where a black US soldier during the war, was having an affair with an English woman, whose husband was serving in the Brit Forces abroad. On his return to the UK, he discovered what was going on behind his back,and encouraged his wife to make a complaint of rape against the soldier. That soldier was found guilty and hung. The woman in question , on the programme, expressed sorrow for the deception that caused a man his life.

    7. rlcope 27 months ago | reply

      It is a wonder that black America have forgiven, and to a great extent, forgotten how whites have treated them.

    8. The Happy Rower 17 months ago | reply

      This is a sad and curious story. How could Hollywood miss this story about 25 hangings of black soldiers in Britain for rape, out of 26? Only one US soldier was executed in all of Europe during WWII for desertion (or was it dereliction of duty?). Is there anywhere that the facts of this story might be documented? There were many mundane stories of WWII that were turned into books. Certainly this compelling story deserves a book!

    9. Kaspar C 17 months ago | reply


      As I've mentioned before, somewhere ,hopefuly, in the BBC's archives is a documentary on this story.

    10. Kaspar C 17 months ago | reply

      And if that wasn't enough..........................................
      Only blacks were executed for rape in England during World War II, [7] and only blacks—six men—were hanged for rape by MacArthur in New Guinea at the end of the Pacific war. [8] “Nowhere in these postwar documents is there even the shadow of suspicion that segregation itself might have played a role in creating a racial disparity in sentencing,” writes Alice Kaplan in The Interpreter, a recent book about the difference in sentencing white and black soldiers accused of the same crime in the European theater. “No one, as yet, was willing to venture the obvious: it was patently absurd that 8.5 percent of the armed forces could be responsible for committing 79 percent of all capital crimes.” [9] - See more at: www.japanfocus.org/-terese-svoboda/2737#sthash.vHBR0L9g.dpuf
      (from The Asia-Pacific Journal:Japan Focus

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