How a visit by legendary boxer Joe Louis helped break down racial divides in Suffolk

Joe Louis is a boxing legend. Credit: PA

Jennifer doesn't remember her Dad, but she knows the story of how her parents met.

Her father was a soldier in the American army where he was stationed at Debbage. He met Jennifer's mother at St Peter's Hall.

Jennifer was one of almost 2,000 mixed race babies born during this time.

Her parents, like so many others, had fallen in love despite social disapproval.

But in those days, segregation in American society meant African American GIs weren't allowed to marry their British white girlfriends. Jennifer's Dad was sent back to the States in September 1945.

Jennifer's father was sent back to the States in September 1945.

Jennifer never saw her father again - staying in touch only through devoted letters between her parents.

But in some ways Jennifer was one of the lucky ones - her mother had the support of her family and Jennifer remained with her mum in Ipswich.

African American troops were treated as second-class citizens.

This segregation made life for African American troops very difficult.

They built many of the airbases that still exist here today, but they were treated as second-class citizens.

Joe Louis visits Haughley Park.

But 70 years ago, the troops were united, if only for a day, when the famous boxer Joe Louis visited Haughley Park.

His power was not just in the boxing ring - the World Heavyweight champion had the unique charisma to bond all sides of the American army.

Joe Louis factfile

  • Date of Birth: 13/05/1914

  • Date of Death: 12/04/1981

  • Weight class: Heavyweight

  • Height: 6 ft 2 in

  • Reach: 76 in

  • Boxing record: Won 66, 52 wins by KO, 3 losses

It wasn't just airbases that the African American troops left behind.

Their culture and music took the local British communities by storm.

Jennifer loves playing the piano. Credit: ITV News Anglia

And that, says Jennifer, is her father's gift to her.

He sent her mother money to buy the little girl a piano when she was five.

She has loved playing ever since.

Click below to watch a report from ITV News Anglia's Tanya Mercer

For more information about Black History Month, click here

The Eighth in the East is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is researching the story of Afro-American troops stationed in the east during World War Two.

You can find out more about their work and the servicemen's stories here