Black Americans in the US Military from the American Revolution
to the Korean War:
The Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War & The Abraham Lincoln Brigade
The beginning of Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia marked an outrage in
the Black American community. The Ethiopians handed the Italians a humiliating
defeat, but immediately suffered reprisal air bombings. No Black Americans served
on the ground, but two out of the three planes the composed the Ethiopian Air
Force were flown by two Black Americans: John Robinson and Hubert Julian. The
planes were used only for transportation of materials and medical supplies.
Of more significance was the contribution by Black American nurses and doctors
from New York’s Harlem Hospital. They organized medical-supply drives
in support of the Red Cross doctors that assisted the Ethiopian Army. The doctors
came from America, Austria, Britain, Egypt, Netherlands, Finland, Greece, Norway,
Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.
The leading theorist of Germany’s racial hygiene system, Alfred Ploetz,
had hailed the U.S. as the “bold leader in the realm of eugenics”(Buckley,
p. 239) for its strict immigration laws and ban on interracial marriage. In
Washington D.C. most hotels and restaurants banned Black Americans, but made
exceptions for foreign Blacks. The problem of racism remained alive and well
throughout the U.S. Fascist sympathizers on the Olympic committee disallowed
Jews from participating in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Most medals were won
by Germany, with Japan in second place, as its “honorary Aryans” and partner in the Anti-Comintern Pact.
In Spain, however, Americans did serve the anti-fascist cause. Sickened by
German fascism, the men of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade saw this as a chance
to stop the spread of racial supremacy through Europe. They wanted to "make
Madrid the tomb of fascism." (Sills) The Abraham Lincoln Brigade had 900
Jewish soldiers and under 100 Black soldiers. Together with the British, Irish,
Canadian, and other nationals they formed the 15th International Brigade. The
Black soldiers were the only ones with experience, mostly as World War I veterans.
This brigade served at the front lines of key Spanish Republican victories against
the Nationalist Fascist Army under General Francisco Franco. In the month-long
Battle of Jarama, Madrid was temporarily saved. In the losing battle of Brunete,
the Americans suffered 50% casualties. Captain Walter Garland showed a self-less
desire for victory, wounded twice at Jarama and shot in the knee while rescuing
a fallen comrade in the Battle of Brunete.
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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
March 30, 2006