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Segregation in the UK?

At home African Americans were subject to legislation known as the Jim Crow Laws, which curtailed civil rights and imposed segregation. Whilst serving overseas, most Black US servicemen were assigned to segregated transportation, supply, and construction units.

Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower issued a policy on 16 July 1942 stating it was “the desire of this headquarters that discrimination of negro troops be sedulously avoided”. This led to the implementation of the “separate but equal” doctrine for US forces in Britain.

The “separate but equal” doctrine gave equal rights to all troops regardless of colour, but they would be separated to enjoy those rights. When the Black engineers arrived in Suffolk to build and service the airfields, it appears that Suffolk people generally welcomed these men into their communities. However, once the white servicemen arrived to populate the operational airbases, racial tensions began to surface. US military authorities responded with a system of de facto segregation.

Towns and villages were designated Black or white only areas. Cinemas were assigned white or black nights and even pubs were designated as “exclusively for coloured troops”.

This system of imposed segregation of Black servicemen in the UK would lead to hostility with both servicemen and ordinary people in Suffolk

‘A Welcome to Britain’ is a film presented by the US War Office to US Troops arriving in the UK, 1943. Here the scene involves the host, Burgess Meredith confronting General Lee, Head of Services of Supply about expectations of white and Black soldiers serving with each other in the UK.

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