Archive for the A Rendezvous With History Category

Captain Oliver Law Takes Command!

Posted in A Rendezvous With History, Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on June 18, 2018 by playthell

Anti-Fascist Hero of the Spanish Civil War

 Heroic African-American Communist Fights Fascism in Spain

 General Colin Powell was three months old when at 33 tall, broad-shouldered Texas African American Oliver Law, became the first Black Commander of an American Army. The date was June 12, 1937. Law was selected by a committee of three white officers to lead this integrated army.  Heard of Colin Powell but never heard of Oliver Law? Hardly surprising. Law’s not mentioned in school books or social studies classes and has yet to find a place in most college texts or history courses. But Law made his mark on world history in June 1937 and for very good reasons.

Oliver Law was among a brave band of 2800 American men and women (including 90 other African Americans) who rushed to help the Spanish Republic Spain during its Civil War (1936-1939). Their aim was to stop Hitler and Mussolini from seizing and using Spain to launch their march across Europe. This was a crucial Nazi warm-up for World War II. These brave Americans were joined by 40,000 other men and women fro52 countries who also volunteered to save Spain’s Republican government from Hitler and Mussolini and General Francisco Franco, their Spanish fascist ally.
For the only time in world history a global volunteer force left their homelands to defend democracy in a distant land. Though few volunteers had any military training they aimed to shame and prod their governments to stop fascist aggression “at the agates of Madrid.” But at this point England, France, the US and other democratic governments did nothing about fascist aggression – and England and France encouraged it. So, as one American Volunteer said, “someone had to do something!”

Among the US volunteers in the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade” military experience ran a low fourth to enthusiasm, commitment and sheer guts. Oliver Law was different. In Texas he had served six years in the Buffalo Soldiers, “US Colored Troops.” This was during the long night of US segregation and lynching lasting through World War II. US War Department policy prevented Law from becoming an officer or reaching higher than corporal.
But for African Americans in Spain life was different. “I can rise according to my worth, not my color,” Law said. This volunteer army included Black and white men and women who united during the Great Depression to fight for unemployment insurance, union rights and social security, and to end to segregation, discrimination and lynching.
After the Lincoln Brigade’s first battle at Jarama, Law’s courage was
rewarded with a promotion to lieutenant. Next he was placed in charge of a machine-gun company. Then Lincoln Brigade Commander Marty Hourihan recommended him for officers’ school.

When the position of Lincoln Brigade Commander became available on June12th, a committee of three white Brigade officers voted Law a Captain and Brigade Commander. One of the three, Steve Nelson, who had worked with him in Chicago, told why they picked Law: “He had the most experience and was best suited for the job.” Further, he was “the most acquainted with military procedures on the staff at the moment . . . he was well liked by his men . . . .” Nelson continued, “When soldiers were asked who might become an officer — ours was a very democratic army — his name always came up. Itwas spoken of him that he was calm under fire, dignified, respectful of his men
and always given to thoughtful consideration of initiatives and military missions.”
The rest of the story is sadder — for Law, the Lincoln Brigade, the International volunteers and the world. At 10:00 AM on July 9th at the battle of Brunete Commander Law insisted on leading his men against a fortified fascist position at Mosquito Ridge. Law, his runner New Yorker Harry Fisher recalled, was “running to the top of the hill,” waving his men on. Law did not “attempt to protect himself, and in a matter of seconds, machine-gun fire ripped into him.” Law’s other runner, Jerry Weinberg of Chicago, crawled across the battlefield to pull law to safety.  It was too late: “He died less than an hour later, Fisher recalled.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Battle

Oliver Law’s comrades buried him under a sign that proudly declared
him the first Black commander of a US military unit.  Hitler, Mussolini and Franco defeated democracy in Spain and five months later, Nazi Germany’s marched into Poland and began World War II. Had the democracies heeded the warning of the 40,000 volunteers, the
story of World War II might have been different.
Though Oliver Law and a majority of the Americans died in Spain,
survivors returned home to again fight fascism after Pearl Harbor. After the war veterans of the Lincoln Brigade continued to battle racism in the United States and oppose imperialist wars abroad, some into the 21st century. Now this year the last one has died.

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By: William Katz

 

NOTE:  This article is based on THE LINCOLN BRIGADE: A PICTURE HISTORY and based on interviews with Brigade veterans Steve Nelson, Harry Fisher, Sam Walters, and others during two trips to Spain with the veterans and their families.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Truth about Racism

Posted in A Rendezvous With History, Cultural Matters on October 4, 2017 by playthell
Mike Barnnicle holding forth on “Morning Joe”
 On Racism, the Media and American Exceptionalism
 Listening to Mike Barnicle – a grizzled old wag and serial plagiarizer who was fired by the Boston Globe but is now a regular on “Morning Joe,” MSNBC’s morning show hosted by Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman from the backward, violent, racist state of Florida, where I came of age – was asked what should we tell our children about the state of the nation? What can we realistically tell them, when the nation is plagued by gun violence and mass murders are common place, racial tensions are rising as black Americans oppose racism in and ongoing struggle that spans centuries.
Added to this is a president who embodies ALL of the vices and NONE of the virtues of American civilization…a despicable braggart, bunko artist, narcissist, sexist, racist, shameless charlatan and avaricious ASSHOLE!!!!! Barnacle’s response to the question was a passionate screed about how we should just tell them to “study American history” and they will see that “America is the greatest nation in the history of the world!” SAY WHAT?? His pronouncement had that air of unassailable truth, like when my grandfather George Benjamin used to say: “And that’s the gospel truth…jes a sho as the lawd is sitting up on his throne wearing a crown of gold in heaven!” The panel was all white, apparently clueless, thus there was nary a voice of dissent.
Alas, one of the persistent problems I had working in the major news media was having to constantly correct the ignorance of my white colleagues. It was a situation that inevitably became redundant because I was a former Professor of history in the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; thus I possessed a world of knowledge which they were wretchedly ignorant of. Most believed in “American Exceptionalism,” the idea that the US is the most enlightened nation on earth; a nation whose greatness is matched by it’s goodness; a nation that has always stood for freedom justice and equality for all people, and this is evidence that America is the most favored nation of God.”
I on the other hand, armed with the facts of our history, view American Exceptionalism as dangerous bullshit, a self-serving myth for a narcissistic white Euro-settler population that invaded North America, engaged in the greatest land theft in history; committed genocide against the indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans for 250 years, and a hundred years thereafter subjected them to a legal caste status based on an ideology and a system of laws that were adopted by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis!
That is a capsule of US history that moved the great Irish writer George Bernard Shaw to remark “America is the only nation in the history of the world that went from barbarism to decadence…without EVER passing through CIVILIZATION!” Now that is true American Exceptionaliam.  Hence I disagree with Mike Barnacle that studying American history in search of a “Golden Age” of American justice and equality will make white kids feel better about either themselves or their civilization. But it might make them want work to realize the “American Dream” of freedom justice and equality for all!
Since Barnacle, like his co-panelist on Morning Joe, the Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan, is Irish-American, and both are dumb as cake dough regarding the role of the Irish in America’s horrid bloody history of racism.  This shameful tale of a poor peasant people, force to flee Ireland because of British oppression, and immigrating to the US where they became among of the worst oppressors of black people in their quest to be recognized as  “white,” is told in the learned path-breaking book: “How the Irish Became White.”   
Before recommending that children “study our history,” Mike and Peggy should heed his advice read this book…it is an excellent place to start!
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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 4, 2017