Doris McMillon Talks Being A “Brown Baby” in Germany
New film tells story of biracial children born in Germany in World War II
There have been countless movies about World War II but only a few have thoroughly explored the unique experience of African-Americans during wartime. Fewer have explored the affects of the war on African-American children, specifically the children of black soldiers and European mothers conceived, and often abandoned after the war. A new documentary, “Brown Babies: The Mischlingskinder Story,” tells the story of so-called “brown babies,” the children of German women and black American soldiers conceived during World War II. Ironically, while Germany was becoming known for its discrimination and attempts at extermination of Jews, relations between black men and German women were not illegal, though frowned upon. By comparison, such relationships in America were not only illegal but could result in death for the men.
Former news personality Doris McMillon discovered she was one of the nearly 5,000 brown babies adopted and raised by a black American couple. Her story, specifically her own search for her biological parents, is credited with inspiring the “Brown Babies” documentary. Doris, who is featured in the film, along with other “brown babies” recently told her story to Loop 21.com. To read more about Doris and her family, check out her memoir “Mixed Blessing.”
Loop 21: How did you first discover that you are one of the "brown babies" of Germany?
My adoptive father was stationed overseas in Germany and my adoptive mother could not have biological children so they adopted me as a baby and told me when I had to go through the process of becoming naturalized at 5 to become an American citizen. It was never one of those big secrets that I was adopted, especially because I didn’t look like anyone in my adoptive family. [She laughs.] My dad said they walked through all of these cribs in Munich and he claims I stood up in the crib with my arms out and my dad said that’s how they knew I was the one.
Loop 21: You were adopted and raised by a black American family but I know it was not a happy childhood. Did you ever have moments where you thought you would have been better off being raised in Germany?
Yes. I thought that often. I thought, “It couldn’t be worse than what you’re going through now.”
Today my mom would have been diagnosed as bipolar, but back then black people did not seek treatment for mental health. My dad would say all the time “I wish we could get her help,” but she wouldn’t do it. Her behavior was very bizarre. She would throw knives at me. The night I graduated from Wayne State my mother actually beat me in my cap and gown, threatened to kill me and pulled a gun on me. But it was her mental illness kicking in…
She told me I would never amount to anything…I was thinking I should be dead. That would be better. I figured then, “my biological mother would never treat me like this.”
Loop 21: Now that you’ve met your biological mother, who’s German, so do you still believe you would have been better off?
She was devastated after reading my book. She was sad and said, “I thought I was doing a good thing. I thought that you would have a better life.” But ultimately I did have a better life. You know what despite how mean and hateful my [adoptive] mother was she put something on the inside of me that said, “I will not fail.” God put something in me to make me a resilient woman...something in me that said, "You are not going to be a failure. You are going to amount to something." And you know what? I have amounted to something.
Loop 21: How would you describe your relationship with your biological mother?
We have a very good relationship. She’s 83 years old. We have so much in common. She’s my mother, not my mom. We like each other and we know we can spend 4 or 5 days together and then it’s time to part. [She laughs.] My mother is 83 years old and won’t take the trash out without putting on her lipstick and that’s precisely how I am. It’s funny.
Loop 21: How did you find her?
I was working for WABC-TV in New York and when my adoptive mom died she left a suitcase that had my adoption papers in it, so when she died I called the Hal Walker, the ABC correspondent in Bond, Germany and told him who I was and said, “I’d like you to help me find my mother,” and on my birthday in 1981 he called and said, “I found her.”
I had no idea who my father was but hoped if I met her she could tell me who he was. My adoptive mom always said my [biological] mother was “a whore,” so I didn’t know that she would know who my biological father was but when I met my German mother she said, “Of course I know who your father was.”
He was a good-looking guy and I saw a picture of him holding me but he left Germany and didn’t leave her any money and she couldn’t afford to keep me.
Loop 21: Did you ever track down your biological father?
Yes! When I returned to the U.S. after meeting my mom in 1981 we did a story on my journey and the anchor Richard Grimsby was also adopted he asked “Do you know who your father is?” and I said, “Yes, my father’s name is Ernest Barnett and I have reason to believe he is in the viewing area" and my father’s uncle happened to be watching and called him, so I got to meet my biological father on Christmas of that year. It was so great. I felt like my whole life was coming together.
He had actually gone back to Germany in the 1960’s looking for me but my mother explained that I was long gone and he didn’t know how to find me so he was ecstatic that we reconnected.
Some of the other brown babies have not had the happiest endings. Some have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and have not been able to find their families. Despite my childhood-- I know I’m very blessed. My story has had the happiest ending.
Keli Goff is Loop 21's senior contributor. For more on her visit www.keligoff.com