For much of his adult life, Daniel Cardwell has been immersed in a search for his identity and his past.
He told an audience at Bowie State University recently that he remembers a childhood where he was never hugged or shown love by the couple who adopted him, and it was a childhood filled with "confusion, questions and secrets."
"I was a brown baby looking for mama, someone who wanted to belong. Abandonment and rejection are two emotions we all have," said Cardwell during a panel discussion after the airing of the documentary, Brown Babies, The Mischlingkinder Story.
Cardwell is one of an estimated 100,000 biracial children born to German women and African-American servicemen stationed in Europe during World War II. He was brought to the United States when he was three and grew up with a couple who raised him along with five other mixed race German children. Cardwell traveled to six times and spent 30 years and $250,000 in his quest for greater knowledge of his background and heritage.
Doris McMillon, an award-winning journalist and president and chief strategic officer of the Fort Washington-based McMillon Communications – another brown baby, located her mother at age 30.
"I have been in the news for 40 years. If you're lost, I can find you," she said. "I knew at five that I was adopted and wanted to find my mother. Hal Walker, a journalist colleague in Bonn, [Germany] helped me and on my 30th birthday, called me and said, 'guess who I found?' Initially, my mom felt guilty for giving me up, but I told her to get over it. I had a blessed life."
McMillon said she and her biological mother Josefine Reiser met and remain very close. She documented the search and reunion in the book Mixed Blessing and it was through the book that McMillon met Cardwell. After learning her father's name – Ernest Barnett – she mentioned it during a newscast in New York and was able to connect with him as well.
Mixed-race children born in post-war Germany were classified as genetic inferiors and social outcasts because of their black lineage. German women with these children were ostracized and in many cases, the fathers were shipped elsewhere and the women left without support. American military authorities discouraged these liaisons, and U.S. military policies rejected any claims of paternity made by German mothers. In addition, black soldiers seeking to marry their white girlfriends were generally prohibited as such unions violated U.S. miscegenation laws.
German authorities supported and encouraged the adoption of these children in the United States and American-born socialite Mabel Grammer was instrumental in making that happen. The pioneer of what would was called inter-country adoption by proxy, Grammer found homes for about 500 mixed-race children. She and her husband Oscar, a Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army, eventually adopted a dozen brown babies of their own.
Regina Griffin, an award-winning Washington journalist, wrote, produced and directed Brown Babies, The Mischlingkinder Story. She said she felt compelled to shed light on a part of American and world history with which few people are familiar.
"It was the most interesting and fascinating story I knew nothing about and so many other people didn't know about," she told the audience. "Cardwell and I spent hours and hours together, and he introduced me to other brown babies who wanted to be a part of this project. They are so brave to live such painful stories. They're so very courageous."
Griffin developed the documentary – her first film – with her own money and focused on the stories of six brown babies. Brown Babies, which was jointly sponsored by The Washington Informer and Wells Fargo, is co-produced and edited by Emmy Award-winner Charles Williams. The film won best documentary from the American Black Film Festival.
"All my life, I thought, 'we've got to tell this story,"' McMillon said. "Dan and I are young and at the age we are, we're going to die so we had to get this done. Regina took my hopes and dreams. The story has been told and now you all are part of history too."