Medical Howard Student On The Spanish Battlefield 1938


Howard student on the Spanish battlefield: 1938

posted by Washington Area Spark alias washington_area_spark on Monday 20th of March 2017 04:07:33 PM

Thaddeus Battle (l), former student at Howard University and activist in the National Negro Congress, is on the battlefield in Spain with Bernard “Bunny” Rucker (c) and Langston Hughes (r) in January 1938. Battle, who lived at 1401 12th Street NW in Washington, D.C. prior to enlisting, was an ambulance driver in the war while Rucker was a supply driver originally from Roanoke, Va. Both joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in an attempt to defeat the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. The Spanish Civil War was in some respects a trial run for the larger conflict of World War II. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany backed Franco’s efforts to overthrow the left wing elected government of Spain backed by the Soviet Union. Western countries imposed an arms embargo on both sides that meant the only arms flowing to the democratic government were those coming a circuitous route from the Soviet Union. After three brutal years of war 1936-39, the Republicans were defeated. Democracy was not restored to the country until after Franco’s death in 1975. Both Battle and Rucker served with the 1st Regiment de Tren of the 15th Brigade Hughes was touring the battlefields interviewing some of the 83 African Americans who joined the fight and other peoples of color who fought with the International Brigades. Battle told Hughes: “At home in America the forces of reaction can so easily use colored workers as a decoy to keep labor from achieving unity. That makes it easier for them to bring about a regime of repression in real Fascist style at home.” “Colored college students must realize…the connection between the international situation and our problems at home.” “Right here in Madrid, I’ve seen how Fascists destroy schools and libraries. University City, a million dollar educational center, is in ruins.” “Why gain culture only to see it destroyed. Franco destroys what it has taken people years to build. He burns books and closes schools and stifles education. “In America our students, colored and white, must take a stand against all factors that even point toward a Fascist type of social order. And our colored campuses should play a much more vital role in national, and even international affairs, than they have done in the past.” As the tide of war turned against the democratic government of Spain, the International Brigades were withdrawn. A wounded Battle returned home to urge an end to the U.S. arms embargo to the constitutional government of Spain. Rucker served in the conflict as a driver, transporting supplies behind enemy lines. While in Spain, Rucker met and formed a friendship with Langston Hughes, who was there as a journalist-observer. Following the withdrawal of the International Brigades, Rucker left Spain, crossing the Pyrenees into France and returning to the United States late in 1938. Upon his return to Columbus, Rucker became active in the fight to integrate movie theaters, community swimming pools, and other public spaces. He moved to New York, and in February 1942, was induced into the United States Army and was assigned to the segregated 92nd Infantry Division and during his early tour of duty was stationed in the United States at Fort Bragg, NC and later Fort Huachuca, AZ. In May 1943 Rucker wed Helen Mulnick, a German-American who shared his commitment to progressive goals; civil rights leader and Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. presided over the ceremony. Rucker was stationed in Louisiana until July 1944 when he embarked for Italy on the S.S. Algonquin. He initially served in the medical division and later as part of an infantry unit at the Front. He fought in the Rome-Arno, the Northern Apennines, and the Po Valley campaigns and was wounded in April 1945. He remained in a hospital in New York for two years receiving treatment for his wounds and was honorably discharged from the Army in August 1947, and awarded three bronze stars and a purple heart. By 1948 he was at work in New York City as an organizer for Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate for president. In 1949 Rucker ran for City Council from the 23rd District on Vito Marcantonio's American Labor Party ticket; also sharing the ticket were Benjamin J. Davis and ALB veteran, Ralph Fasanella. Rucker took advantage of the GI bill and was admitted to Columbia University in 1952 were he gained a BA and a Master's degree in Library Science. Rucker died of cancer in a V.A. hospital in East Orange, New Jersey on February 22, 1992. He was 80 years old. Sources include the Baltimore Afro American and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives where the biography of Rucker was partially excerpted. For more information and related images, see The photographer is unknown. The image is courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.


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