An African American Nurse in Republican Spain
Repository: Robert D. Farber University Archive and Special Collections, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
Creator: Kea, Salaria
Contributor: Negro Committee to Aid Spain
Fond or Collection
Spanish Civil War Periodical Collection
Repository and Location
Robert D. Farber University Archive and Special Collections, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
Date Created: 1938
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: New York City
The booklet A Negro Nurse in Republican Spain was written by Salaria Kea, the only African American nurse to serve as part of the American Medical Bureau.
Born in Millidgeville, Georgia in July 1911, Kea grew up in Akron, Ohio. After training at the Harlem School of Nursing, she worked at two of the very few hospitals in New York City that employed Black nurses. Kea responded to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 by raising funds for medical supplies, and she even tried to volunteer. Helping defend the Spanish Republic was the continuation of an anti-Fascism that, as for many other African Americans, began with Ethiopia.
After arriving in Spain in April 1937, Kea worked in the Hospital Americano N. 1” in Saelices (Cuenca) and a number of others. After being injured in a bombing in Barcelona and being diagnosed with amoebic dysentery, she was sent back to the United States. There, Kea went on lecture tours to raise support for the Republican cause.
Kea was not the only Black American to serve in Spain. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade was the first integrated army unit in US history, with some 90 Black members, including one of its commanders, Oliver Law.
Other Black American women, like social worker Thyra Edwards, went to Spain in other capacities. In addition to studying the children’s colonies, Edwards wrote articles for the Associated Negro Press news service about the war experiences of women and children. Back in the United States, she organized a twenty-one city tour to raise money for an ambulance for Spain that featured her and Salaria Kea. Her pamphlet, The Negro Ambulance Fund, denounced fascism as a threat to women: “Mussolini and Hitler have established that women have one exclusive function: To bear soldiers for the State”.
Edwards was part of the broad mobilization of Black civil society to support the Republican cause. This ranged from churches, YMCAs, and youth organizations, to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. African American newspapers paid close attention to the conflict, and the Baltimore Afro-American sent poet Langston Hughes as a correspondent specifically to write about the Black Americans serving in the International Brigades and his articles were reprinted in other Black periodicals.
A Negro Nurse in Republican Spain was published by the Negro Committee to Aid Spain whose leadership included figures such as actor and singer Paul Robeson, writer Richard Wright, and civil rights activists Mary McLeod Bethune and A. Philip Randolph. Kea and Edwards’ ambulance tour took place under its auspices. Like other Black Americans, the Negro Committee’s interest in Spain continued after the war ended, as it turned to raising funds for Spanish Republican refugees.
The story of Salaria Kea highlights the ways in which people around the world, in this case Black Americans, understood the Spanish Civil War. Kea set out the direct connection between the conflict in Spain and the struggles of Blacks in the United States. Numerous others, like Lincoln Brigadier Eluard Luchelle McDaniels, made the same point: “I saw the invaders of Spain [were] the same people I’ve been fighting all my life. I’ve seen lynching and starvation, and I know my people’s enemies.”