From his birth to a share cropper family in the cotton fields of Mississippi to the unrest in Chicago and New York during the depression, James Yates's experience with labor protest and union organizing shaped his vision of freedom and led to his decision to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.
Approximately 100 Blacks were among the 3,200 volunteers from the US that formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the first non-Jim Crow military organization in US history. Yates describes Oliver Law, the first Black commander of a US military unit; Paul Robeson; Langston Hughes, who Yates drove to the front; and nurse Salaria Key O'Reilly. Yates makes cogent connections between fascism and racism.
James Yates returned to the US after having been wounded in the Spanish Civil War. He will be remembered for his active role in the struggle for freedom. James Yates died in January, 1994. The Jimmy Yates Award is presented annually to a short story writer by the Molasses Pond Writers Workshop in Franklin, Maine.
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"If you were Black in Mississippi, lightning would surely strike home sooner or later," writes Yates of his youth early in this century. For him, it struck as a mass lynching, impelling him to leave for Chicago and, later, New York. Far from home, Yates determined to "stand and fight, not flee"; with 100 other black Americans, he battled fascism in Spain in 1937. Though well worth telling, his story fails to reckon with the complexities of history or aspects of personal chronology (the fate of Yates's wife and children in Chicago goes unmentioned). But if uncertain in details, the author persuasively suggests the "overwhelming sense of kinship" shared by the anti-fascists. And while his affection for war may seem paradoxical in one who mourned the wounds of violence early, more disturbing is the fact that only in battle could Yates escape the racism of his own country. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The first half of Yates's memoir is a forceful indictment of the racism and poverty suffered by black Americans between the world wars. It is easy to understand how Yates was drawn to socialist causes and enlisted in the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. The weakest part of the book is Yates's description of his service in Spain: primarily a running account of his contact with other Republican soldiers. A broader eyewitness history is John Tisa's Recalling the Good Fight ( LJ 10/1/85). Yates's book is recommended for black history collections. Robert Jordan, Univ. of Iowa Lib., Iowa City
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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