Welcome to Suffolk
One of the first mentions in the press of the US Black Servicemen in Suffolk would appear to support Jim Crow prejudice. In September 1942 ‘coloured American Troops’ were banned from a dance in Eye. Though it is unclear as to where this prejudice originated, local residents appear to have made a rapid and clear response, to support the men. An article the very next day stated Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) members would be ‘creating a canteen and recreation centre’ and, said the Mayor, a committee formed to explore other ways to make our guests feel at home’.
Other contemporary newspaper articles reveal numerous occasions of Black GIs taking part and indeed hosting, a wide range of activities involving the local community. Some events seem to be linked with Methodist church, but they also include a wide variety of occasions such as organising children’s parties, dances, baseball demonstrations, as well as local concerts by members of the famous 923rd Aviation Regiment Choir. Indeed, the disappointment expressed at their inability to attend a garden party at Fersfield because of military duties, demonstrates their popularity with local Suffolk people. Here is a small selection of the many positive stories reported in the local press, which give a flavour of these men’s lives whilst stationed in Suffolk and help to illustrate how they were accepted and integrated into the local community. (click to enlarge)
In 1944 the American Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joe Louis, visited Stowmarket in Suffolk to meet with thousands of Black servicemen stationed across East Anglia. Louis travelled more than 21,000 miles and staged 96 boxing exhibitions before two million soldiers. On the day of celebration, Black troops paraded through the town to celebrate ‘Salute a Soldier’ week before joining Louis at nearby Haughley Park for festivities, which included a boxing match to entertain servicemen from the aviation engineer regiments of the Eighth Air Force Division.
Many black US servicemen made friends in the local area. Carl Giles, the famous Daily Express cartoonist moved to Ipswich in 1943. He could regularly be found drinking and playing jazz in his local pub, The Fountain in Tuddenham St Martin near Ipswich, with black servicemen who were based at nearby Debach. This photograph was taken by the war photographer Lee Miller for a spread on Giles in British Vogue in 1944.