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The War in Spain
The stance of the U.S. not to get involved with the Spanish Civil War lead to the U.S. State Department to order, “Not Valid For Spain” in all caps, to be stamped on all passports.1 That would have meant that if any Americans wanted to travel to Spain, they would have to do that illegally. So as a strategy, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade would sail to France pretending to be tourist and then would cross the border into Spain. Not too long after the U.S.’s decision, France would close their border to Spain in 1937.
Now, the volunteers could only reach Spain by climbing the Pyrenees Mountains at Night. Why go through all this trouble? Theses risk are very high. For the African American, it was the only option in some people’s mind. The mentality of, having nothing to lose, is the very mentality these men and women have, especially the blacks.
When African American got to Spain, after all the obstacles, they found that life in Spain was very different from what they had in the United States. When the brigades would march the cities of Spain, Marion Noble, a white volunteer, said “Spanish women showered the Black men with smiles and flowers.” Luchelle McDaniels would say, “I never felt more like a free man.” It interesting to hear that a man how to feel like a man, in a foreign country. It could even say that about himself in his own native-born country.
Volunteer from the united states were put with the English speaking Fifteenth Brigade that included British, Canadian, and Irish units. Due to their struggles, the U.S. volunteers called their units Lincoln and Washington battalions and name the artillery and machine-guns companies after abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and anti-slavery martyr John Brown.2
The Lincoln Brigade, from infantry privates to officers, was the first fully integrated U.S. army. At the time many communists held leadership position high up in this army. Steve Nelson resolved that African American would have an opportunity to prove their capacities and leadership abelites. Oscar Hunter became the Political Commissar of Hospitals. Many more blacks help leadership position.
During the unit’s first battle at Pingarr Hill in Jarama Valley, the brigade faced heavy fire without any usual air support or artillery support. Alonzo Watson would be the first African American to die in the Spain. Walter Garland, would be wounded and come back to the front lines, was promoted to Lieutenant with Oliver Law for his commended bravery. Many other African Americans would show off their bravery like solider, Doug Roach. Roach was a man with great enthusiasm. Writings say he could carry a heavy machine gun over the hills of Brunete when others were too exhausted to walk. Luchelle McDaniels, could throw a grenade long distance with either hand.
Fighting in Spain would have lasting impact on the African Americans there. Salaria Kea, who was talked about earlier, said “the divisions of race, creed and nationality lost significance when they met a united effort to make Spain the tomb of Fascism…"I saw my fate, the fate of the Negro race, was inseparably tied up with their fate…”
She would recount the many tragedies that she shared with the Spanish people. Kea remembered most vividly the fascist bombing of children’s colonies near Barcelona and an attack on her field hospital. In 1938 a left Kea buried for six hours. The injury left her unfit to further hospital service. When she returned to the U.S., she would travel through the country getting medical supplies and food for the people of Spain. She did that until Spain fell to Franco in 1939. Pat Battle would tell James Yates about the fascist destruction he had seen in Madrid of school, libraries and other educational institutions.
Oliver Law stood out in Spain for his bravery. Law’s bravery earned him many battlefield promotions. After begin in charge of the machine-gun company, the Lincoln Brigade commander Marty Hourihan, recommended Law for officers’ school. When a position for Commander came open, Captain Law was Chosen.
While all this was going on in Spain, on the U.S. home front, the African American gave full support to the Lincoln brigade anti-fascist efforts. Despite the efforts of the Spanish people and the International volunteers, the republic fell to Franco’s forces in March of 1939.