Oliver Law

Oliver Law

 

Oliver Law

El comandante afroamericano de la Brigada Lincoln en la Guerra Civil de España (1936-1936)

Oliver Law (1899 -9 de julio, 1937) fue un afroamericano comunista, sindicalista, y activista social, que luchó con el Batallón Lincoln, en la Guerra Civil Española.

Nacido en Texas, sirvió en el ejército durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, luego se trasladó a Chicago, donde desempeñó varios trabajos. Se unió al Partido comunista de los Estados Unidos en 1929, durante la Grán Depresión, en la que se quedó en paro, convirtiéndose en un importante activista.

Fuertemente opuesto al fascismo, lideró manifestaciones contra la ocupación italiana de Etiopía, en 1936 zarpó a España, desde Nueva York, para unirse a las fuerzas que lucharon contra los nacionales, a pesar de la prohibición del gobierno norteamericano. Era un destacado soldado con una considerable experiencia militar, sirvió en una compañía de ametralladoras y pronto se convirtió en comandante del batallón. Fue el primer afroamericano que comandó a tropas de estadounidenses blancos en la historia.

En 1936 Law se unió al Batallón Lincoln, una unidad de voluntarios estadounidenses que luchó en favor del gobierno del Frente Popular.
Después del fracaso de la toma de Madrid mediante batalla frontal, Franco ordenó cortar la carretera que unía Madrid con el resto del territorio Republicano. 40.000 hombres del bando Nacionalista, cruzaron el rio Jarama el 11 de febrero de 1937. El general José Miaja envió tres Brigadas Internacionales al valle del Jarama para bloquear el avance. La buena actuación de Law en la batalla le permitió promocionar a comandante de la compañía de ametralladoras. Unas semanas más tarde fue nombrado comandante del batallón.

El 6 de julio, el gobierno republicano lanzó una gran ofensiva en un intento de mitigar la ofensiva sobre Madrid. El general Vicente Rojo envió al Ejército Republicano a Brunete, desafiando el control Nacionalista del oeste de la capital. Luchando durante el cálido verano, las Brigadas Internacionales sufrieron muchas bajas. Law merecería aquellos galones, dirigía a sus hombres encabezando los ataques, murió en combate el 9 de julio durante un ataque en el Cerro del Mosquito, siendo alcanzado por un mortero en la batalla de Brunete.

Estos hombres hicieron cuanto estuvo en su mano, pero en su mayoría no eran militares profesionales. Ahora bien, la experiencia y el entrenamiento que les faltaba lo compensaban con su fe, su pasión y su ánimo. No estaban luchando por ellos mismos, ni tampoco por dinero. Estaban luchando por hondas convicciones. Y por eso es por lo que estaban dispuestos a morir.

Eslanda Robeson Diary

 

Eslanda Goode Robeson’s diary excerpt of Oliver Law’s story, as told by “K”

As we drove along, K. [accompanying soldier] got talking and told us the story of Oliver Law. It seems he was a Negro – about 33 – who was a former Army man fromChicago. He had risen to be a corporal in the U.S. Army. Quiet, dark brown, dignified, strongly built. All the men liked him. He began here as a corporal, soon rose to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and finally was commander of the Battalion – the Lincoln-Washington Battalion. K. said warmly that many officers and men here inSpainconsidered him the best battalion commander inSpain. The men all liked him, trusted him, respected him and served him with confidence and willingly.

K. tells of an incident when the battalion was visited by an old Colonel, Southern, of the U.S. Army. He said to Law – “Er, I see you are in a Captain’s uniform?” Law replied with dignity, “Yes, I am, because I am a Captain. In America, in your army, I could only rise as high as corporal, but here people feel differently about race and I can rise according to my worth, not according to my color!” Whereupon the Colonel hemmed and hawed and finally came out with: “I’m sure your people must be proud of you, my boy.” “Yes,” said Law. “I’m sure they are!”

K. says that Law rose from rank to rank on sheer merit. He kept up the morale of his men. He always had a big smile when they won their objectives and an encouraging smile when they lost. He never said very much.

Law led his men in charge after charge at Brunete, and was finally wounded seriously by a sniper. K. brought him in from the field and loaded him onto a stretcher when he found how seriously wounded he was. K. and another soldier were carrying him up the hill to the first aid camp.

On the way up the hill another sniper shot Law, on the stretcher; the sniper’s bullet landed in his groin and he began to lose blood rapidly. The did what they could to stop the blood, hurriedly putting down the stretcher. But in a few minutes the loss of blood was so great that Law died.

“Journey Into Spain” Eslanda Goode Robeson, January 31, 1938.
From Alvah Bessie’s The Heart of Spain (New York, VALB, 1952), p. 248.

Oliver Law was born in Texas in 1899. He served in the United States Army during the First World War. After six years in the forces he left to work in a cement factory. He later moved to Chicago where he drove a taxi, worked as a stevedore and ran a small restaurant.

During the Great Depression Law joined the Communist Party and became active in the unemployment movement. This included the organization of the International Unemployment Day demonstration on 6th March 1930. During the demonstration Law, Joe DalletSteve Nelson and eleven other activists were arrested and badly beaten by the police. Two weeks after the beatings Law had recovered sufficiently to march with 75,000 demonstrators to demand unemployment insurance.

Law also helped to organize mass protests against Benito Mussolini and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

In 1936 Law joined the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, a unit that volunteered to fight for the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War. Law arrived in Spain in January 1937 and joined the otherInternational Brigades atAlbacete.

After failing to take Madrid by frontal assault General Francisco Franco gave orders for the road that linked the city to the rest of Republican Spain to be cut. A Nationalist force of 40,000 men, including men from theArmy of Africa, crossed the Jarama River on 11th February, 1937.

General José Miaja sent three International Brigades to theJaramaValley to block the advance. Law first saw action on 27th February. He performed so well in the battle he was promoted to commander of the machine-gun company. A few weeks later he became battalion commander. It was the first time in American history that an integrated military force was led by an African-American officer.

On 6th July 1937, the Popular Front government launched a major offensive in an attempt to relieve the threat to Madrid. General Vicente Rojo sent the Republican Army to Brunete, challenging Nationalist control of the western approaches to the capital. The 80,000 Republican soldiers made good early progress but they were brought to a halt when General Francisco Franco brought up his reserves.

Fighting in hot summer weather, the Internationals suffered heavy losses. Oliver Law was killed on 9th July when he was leading his men in an attack against Mosquito Ridge.

Paul Robeson speaking to members of the 
Abraham Lincoln Battalion in Madrid in 1938.

After the war, an anti-Communist, William Herrick, claimed that Law had been murdered by his own men who objected to being led by a black man. This claim has been dismissed by Harry Fisher, the battalion runner, who took part in the offensive: “He was the first man over the top. He was in the furthest position when he was hit by a fascist bullet in the chest.” David Smith, the medic who attempted to staunch the bleeding with a coagulant, also confirmed that he had been killed by the Nationalists.

Paul Robeson attempted to get a film made on the life of Law. Robeson later complained “the same money interests that block every effort to helpSpain, control the Motion Picture industry, and so refuse to allow such a story.”

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