Wayne State honors Spanish Civil War veterans

by Hank Kennedy

Detroiter Saul Wellman (l), together with Robert Thomson and David Doran, at Fuentes de Ebro. (The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 011, 11–0582. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.)

On April 1, 1939, the Republic of Spain surrendered to the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco, ending the Spanish Civil War. The war was a foretaste of the Second World War; the armies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy would use the experience they gained to conquer most of Europe and initiate the slaughter of World War II.

The Spanish Republic was never alone in its cause, lost though it may have been. Thousands of volunteers from around the world fought in Spain in the International Brigades in the name of democracy and solidarity. These included 2,500 from the United States, who fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Four of these soldiers came from Detroit’s own Wayne State University.

Robert Nagle, Marsden Moran, Roy McQuarry, and Joe Rubenstein set sail for Spain in 1937, determined to stop the spread of fascism. Of the four, Nagle was the sole survivor; the rest were killed in battle. Nagle himself passed away in 2003. The legacy of these alumni lives on in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Memorial Scholarship.

The scholarship was established in 1982 using funds from a benefit put on by legendary folk singer Pete Seeger. The show was organized by Saul Wellman, a Detroit-area Spanish Civil War veteran, and former professor Mel Small. The scholarship is awarded to students who best exemplify the values of the brigadistas, including “promoting peace and justice in social, political, and community engagement.” More than 40 Wayne students have received the award.

These students fought South African apartheid, established free medical clinics, worked with Central American refugees, and much more. The recipients honor the hopes and dreams the brigadistas carried with them.

Wayne State keeps the memory of the Lincoln Brigade alive through film screenings and lectures. The most recent featured political scientist Mark Bray discussing the history of antifascism around the world and the lessons those movements can teach leftists today.

The scholarship deadline is in April of every year.