FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fighting Racism and Fascism With Oliver Law

by

Cork, Ireland. 

On July 19 1936, General Franco, with the backing of Hitler and Mussolini, led a coup against the democratically elected Government of Spain. It kick started the Spanish civil war which saw a viscous fight between right wing and left wing ideologies.

Of the many like minded individuals who went to Spain to fight against Franco’s fascists was a young man from Texas who would become the first African American to lead an integrated fighting force.

Oliver Law was born on a ranch in Texas on October 23rd 1900. At the age of 19 he joined the United States army but despite his impeccable record, segregation prevented Law from rising in the ranks and after six years in uniform he left for a civilian life.

In 1925, Law, like so many others of that time, left the rural south to seek better opportunities in the industrial north. At the beginning he found work in a cement plant in Indiana before eventually settling on the Southside of Chicago where he worked as a cab driver and then finding employment as a stevedore.

Racism fuelled Law’s passion to fight for social equality while the Great Depression only served to strengthen his left wing values. He chaired the Southside chapter of the Labour Defence League in Chicago which was the legal wing of the American Communist Party and became a frequent target of police harassment as his activism grew.

In 1930, Law was beaten and arrested with 14 other activists at an International Unemployment Day rally in Chicago. In 1935, Law helped organise a large rally in protest against Mussolini’s occupation of Ethiopia and was arrested while giving a speech to the 10,000 strong crowd.

When the Spanish Civil war flared up in 1936, Law joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and within a year he was Spain fighting Franco’s fascists.

On January 16 1937, Law along with many other volunteers from America, arrived in Spain. On February 17 they got their first taste of action in the Jarama valley where the task of the International Brigade was to stop the advancing might of oliver2Franco’s troops.

Although Law and his fellow brigadistas were unable to hold out against the better equipped fascists, his display on the battle field saw him rise through the ranks of the Lincoln Brigade.

Two weeks after landing in Spain, Law had been promoted to section leader in the Lincoln Brigade and on February 27th he took part in an attack on Pingarron Hill in the Jarama Valley. Of the 500 Brigadistas that went into that battle against Franco’s troops, some 300 were killed and wounded. Two weeks after this setback, Law was promoted to commander of the machine gun company.

Heavy losses dented the International Brigades, and the Lincoln Brigade was one that suffered the most. With the high losses, Law soon rose quickly among the ranks and six months after arriving in Spain he had become commander of the Lincoln Brigade.

Oliver Law became the first African American to lead an integrated American fighting force. In the United States army, the highest rank Law could rise to was corporal due to segregation but in Spain he was now leader, even if it was just for a short time.

In July 1937, Law led his brigade into the Battle of Brunete where Franco had sent back up troops to prevent an approach on Madrid. It proved a bloody battle and one in which Law would loose his life.

On July 10, Law assembled his troops to advance on a hill known as Mosquito Crest. Franco’s troops were there waiting with severe fire power but Law charged forward waving his pistol and encouraging his men to follow.

A snipers bullet hit Law in the stomach and he fell in mid charge. As he was being brought down from the hill on a stretcher, another bullet hit him and his life ended there in the battle fields of Spain along with 135 other Americans that day.

The 37 year old Oliver Law was well respected and had gained trust from those who fought alongside him, and his loss was a major blow to his comrades in the Lincoln Brigade.

In the immediate years after his death, an attempt was made to make a film on the life of Oliver Law but it was blocked by the right wing influences in the film business.

Among the 3,000 volunteers from the United States that went to fight fascism in Spain, some 80 of those were African American, and among them was Oliver Law, who fought and died for all workers regardless of their colour and creed.

Lily Murphy is a history and politics graduate from Cork city, Ireland. email: lilymurphycork@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Lily Murphy lives in County Cork. She can be reached at: Lilymurphycork@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail