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Mon, 10.23.1899

Oliver Law, American Military Hero

Oliver Law

*Oliver Law was born on this date in 1900. He was a Black soldier and military leader. He was the first Black man to lead an integrated military force in the history of the United States.

Born in west Texas, while still in his teens he joined the U. S. Army and from 1919 to 1925 served as a private in the 24th Infantry, a Black outfit stationed on the Mexican border. After leaving the military, Law moved to Bluffton, Indiana and shortly thereafter to Chicago where he drove for the Yellow Cab Company.  During the Depression he landed a job as a stevedore and joined the International Longshoreman's Association. Following this, Law opened a small restaurant before going to work for the Works Project Administration and joined the International Labor Defense and in 1932 the Communist Party (CPUSA). His political activities led to frequent run-ins with the Chicago Police Red Squad. Shortly before departing for Spain, Law was arrested while leading a rally to protest Italy's invasion of Ethiopia.

During this period Law married Corrine Lightfoot, sister of a prominent Black in the Communist party, Claude Lightfoot. Law was among the earliest U.S. volunteers. He received his passport in 1937 and left for France. In Spain, Law's leadership qualities and previous military experience were highly valued. He first served as Section Leader of a machine-gun company. When the Lincoln battalion was re-organized after the disastrous assaults on February 27, 1937 at Jarama, Law was promoted to Commander of the company. Law continued to advance in rank during the long period of trench warfare on the Jarama front. He was selected as Adjutant to the Battalion Commander.

After an abortive attempt was made to form a regimental system within the brigade and the Lincoln commander, Martin Hourihan, was transferred to the regimental staff, Oliver Law was chosen to replace him and given the rank of captain. Law led the Abraham Lincoln Battalion during the initial days of the Brunete offensive. On July 10, 1937, the fourth day of the campaign, he was killed while leading his command in an assault on Mosquito Ridge. Fifty years after his death, Law's historic achievement was recognized when Chicago Mayor Harold Washington declared November 21, 1987 "Oliver Law and Abraham Lincoln Brigade Day."

Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives

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