OLIVER LAW: The first African American in history to lead an integrated American military army

Oliver Law was born on 23 October 1900 and was the first African American in history to lead an integrated American military army.

He was born in west Texas and became a private in the U.S. 24th Infantry between 1919-1925 before moving to Chicago where he became a cabbie, a stevedore, and worked as a Project Administration.

During the Great Depression, in 1932 he joined the Communist Party and led the southside unemployed Council. He married Corrine Lightfoot, sister of a prominent African American in the Communist party, Claude Lightfoot.

On 31 August 1935, Law oversaw a protest against Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia. The protest was restricted by Chicago Mayor Kelly who sent 2,000 police to break it up, 10,000 people attended but Law still went ahead to speak from the rooftop.

He was among the first 2,800 Americans which included 90 African Americans that formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain, joining 40,000 volunteers from 52 nations who strived to keep General Franco, assisted by Hitler and Mussolini, from overthrowing Spain’s new Republican government. He got his passport on 7 January 1937 and left for Europe on 16 January 1937.

Law’s military experience and leadership qualities were highly valued as the commander of a machine-gun company. In March 1937 Law was promoted to Lincoln Brigade Commander and on 9 July, he led his men in an attack on Mosquito Ridge without air, artillery, or tank support and was mortally wounded by enemy machine gunners. Pulled to safety, he said, “I’ll be back in a week or two,” but soon died. His comrades buried him under a simple sign: “OLIVER LAW, THE FIRST NEGRO TO COMMAND AMERICAN WHITE SOLDIERS.”

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