putting a human face on complex social issues
The Front Lines of Social Change: Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Staring out into the darkness as the boat made its way across the ocean to Spain in 1936, nurse Hilda Bell Roberts, barely twenty at the time, reflected on her life. “My plans were simple,” she recalls. “Get married, have kids, lead an organized life. Then I realized I was giving it all up, and my life would never be the same. It felt good.”
Roberts is one of three thousand Americans who traveled to Spain in the late 1930s to defend the democratic Republic of Spain against a fascist military takeover. Nearly seventy years later, marching with a crowd of demonstrators protesting U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, she smiles and states with pride, “Going to Spain was the best decision I ever made, next to becoming a nurse.”
Since going to Spain, Roberts has participated in the communist movement, the struggle for the eight-hour workday, the civil rights movement, and the Berkeley free speech movement. She opposed the United States war in Vietnam and the production of nuclear weapons. To protest U.S. intervention in Central America, she traveled to Nicaragua with Elders for Survival to harvest coffee. When she was in her seventies, she fasted for twenty-three days to defy the U.S. blockade on Cuba. Every Friday afternoon for over a decade, she has stood in the Women in Black vigil for peace in the Middle East. The Berkeley city council recently celebrated her lifelong commitment to social justice by proclaiming a Hilda Roberts Day. In many ways her life exemplifies those of the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
You won’t find their names in most history textbooks. Their goal was to stop the spread of fascism. If the world had followed their lead, World War II might have been prevented.
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