Welcome to the digital book African American Liberators in The Netherlands

On the occasion of Memorial Day 2018, we like to present to you information on Dutch research about the 172 African-Americans who are buried in the American Cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands (NL). We do so, even though this website is still under construction. We already started researching to find out who these 172 forgotten liberators were. In reaching out to the relatives of the African-American liberators resting at the cemetery in The Netherlands (a.k.a. Holland) we hope to be able to tell their biographical stories on the occasion of the 75th celebration of the South of The Netherlands, September 2019.

The new facts, pictures and stories we gather willtell who these liberators were. It is about time their stories will be told.
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From farm field to soldiers cemetery 1944, Source: RHCL From farm field to soldiers cemetery 1944, Source: RHCL

Black troops arriving in The Netherlands

From September 12 1944, American troops entered the country in the Province of Limburg, embedded between Germany and Belgium. Soon after that the American Army started to create a war cemetery in the village of Margraten. African-American soldiers of the Quarter Master Service Company (QMSC) assisted the Grave Registration Company, gathering corpses from temporary cemeteries in Belgium and Germany. Some victims came directly in from the frontlines. Black gravediggers buried 20,000 corpses brought in by African American truck drivers. In 1947 about 10,000 of the American killed soldiers were shipped back to the US to be reburied at home.

In 2009 people in NL heard for the first time about the segregation in the US Army when a former gravedigger, Dr Jefferson Wiggins from Connecticut (†2013), returned to Margraten after 65 years. Dr. Wiggins recalled: “It was late summer 1944 and we didn’t know what the task was that brought us to NL. (...) Before that we worked in the UK at the preparation for D-Day and we landed on ‘the beaches’ as well. From there our 960st QMS unit of 260 men went north and we were assigned several tasks on the way through France towards Belgium. We ended up in The Netherlands, Margraten. (...). Only arriving at the cemetery grounds we learned about the job waiting for us”.

Dr. Wiggins was interviewed by lots of Dutch Media, including the National News. People were astonished. Hardly anyone had heard before about the participation of African-American troops in the liberation of the country, which still cherishes the US liberators very much. They hadn’t been mentioned in schoolbooks, or in documentaries about the war. For most Dutch people it was the first time they heard about the segregation in the US Army during WWII. And still many don’t know about Black Liberators.

Jefferson Wiggins, returned to Margraten after 65 years. Jefferson Wiggins, returned to Margraten after 65 years.
Foto J.P. Geussens

172 times Race code 2

Many stories of white deceased soldiers buried in the Margraten cemetery have been collected in publications, books, documentaries and pictures. However, only a couple of stories about the African-Americans are known.
In the summer of 2014, a first list of names of these African-American buried in the cemetery or mentioned on the Wall of the Missing was put together. Subsequent research led to a final list of 172 African-Americans. Although all American Army victims are buried at random, because ‘death knows no color’, it was possible to construct the list due to a race code on the burial certificates. Those of African-American soldiers mentioned ‘race code 2’. Of only four of them we know about their biographical background.

We hope you can help us to learn more about these liberators.
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Left to right: Willy F. Williams, Nico and Jacques Haan 1947 at Fred Browns grave Left to right: Willy F. Williams, Nico and Jacques Haan 1947 at Fred Browns grave

Willy Frank Williams (1921-Sumter County, Georgia-June 1945) 668th Ordnance Ammunition Company. Grandson David McGhee visited his grave for the first time in 2016. A grandfather he never knew. After his grandmother had died he found a suitcase with pictures and documents of her first husband. He met Mr and Mrs Smeets who have looked after his grandfather’s grave for years and a warm friendship has started.

Fred L. Brown (Broxn County, New York 1924 – April 1945) a corporal of the 761st All Black Tank Battalion, mentioned in Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s book on the 761st “Brothers in arms”. Browns’ grave was adopted in 1947 by the Haan family.

The adoption of the graves
All graves in the American cemetery in Margraten have been adopted since 1947. Jacques Haan still visits Fred Brown’s grave on the anniversary of the day he was killed.

There are many friendships between Dutch adopters and relatives in the US of a soldier buried in Margraten. Only four adopters of the graves of the 172 could get in touch with relatives of the African Americans.

We need your help

We need your help to find relatives of the 172 African Americans buried in the American Cemetery in NL. Until now they are only known by the name on their graves. A list of names by State is available. At this stage we also can provide some numbers of units they have served in.

We also are interested in stories, documents and pictures of black liberators who were stationed in The Netherlands from September 1944 on.

The results of this research will be the main content of the digital book that will be continued as long as stories will be found. An educational program in Dutch as well in English will be part of it. If you have any information please contact us at contact@blackliberators.nl or 0031638906447

From several Dutch funds we received some financial support, but more money is needed for research in the US, interviewing relatives of the 172, and finally making a documentary to be presented in May 2020, 75 after The Netherlands were liberated.

Any gift will help!
You can donate at the bankaccount of Foundation Art Buro Limburg mentioning Black Liberators account nr: NL94 SNSB 0865 9066 02 BIC SNSBNL2A

Thank you in advance,
Mieke KirkelsMieke Kirkels

Thanks to

Veterans History Project Library of Congress
The Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, Washington DC
The U.S. Embassy in The Hague
The Municipality of Eijsden-Margraten
V-fonds Utrecht
Stichting Kanunnik Salden
Provincie Limburg
CBCF, Dr Menna Demmesy
African American Civil War Museum, Dr. Frank Smith
Margaret McEvoy (US)
Sebastiaan Vonk (NL)
St. Adoptiegraven Margraten (NL)
Art Buro Limburg
51North