National Museum of African American History and Culture Premieres Film about Black Soldiers in England during WWII Nov. 10

October 16, 2009
News Release

During World War II, 140,000 African American soldiers were sent to England to fight against the Nazis. The story of their unexpected bond with British civilians after facing discrimination at home and on the battlefield is the central theme of “Choc’late Soldiers from the USA.” The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will present a world premiere of the film Tuesday, Nov. 10. The screening will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Ring Auditorium at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W.           

Director Sonny Izon, producer Gregory Cooke and veterans who appear in the film will be available during a question-and-answer session following the screening. The event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are required. Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Reflecting the Jim Crow practices of the time, the army and other branches of the U.S. armed forces were segregated. However, the realities of war, Hitler’s advancing army and pressure from civil rights leaders led Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to temporarily end segregation in the army and rush African American GIs to the front lines. While most remained relegated to non-combat duties, some, such as those in the 761st Tank Battalion and the 332nd Fighter Group—the Tuskegee Airmen—saw battle.  

Using archival footage and interviews with veterans and the British citizens they encountered, “Choc’late Soldiers” paints a vivid picture of the GIs’ experiences and the British civilians’ relationships with the men.

“Not only were you treated better than you were at home, but there were signs in the pubs saying ‘blacks welcome,’” said one veteran in the film.

A British woman in the film recalls: “When the Americans came, we were amazed because we’d never seen colored people before. My father made sure that we respected them.”

Particularly popular with British women were the music and dancing the black soldiers brought with them. Accustomed to the conservative style practiced in the pubs and nightclubs at the time, young women quickly took to the lively bebop music and jitterbugging the soldiers performed with such skill.         

While the British largely treated the GIs well, the film points out that a lot of their fellow soldiers did not. A veteran recounts how a civilian wanted to know why the Americans had two armies, one black and one white. He said he never tried to explain it to them because he could not understand it himself. The obvious irony of the black soldier’s plight was not lost on the British. A scholar says in the film it seemed odd that they were fighting a war to liberate the world of the worst racist, yet racism was being practiced against them.  

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. For more information about the museum, please visit nmaahc.si.edu or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

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SI-458-2009