Biographies/LeRoy Collins

Tags: Journalist Political Suspect Ebro Offensive African American US Navy 15th Brigade Fuentes de Ebro WPA Union Organizer Member Of Communist Party

Researcher: Julie Grandchamp-Desraux, Stuyvesant '22

LeRoy Collins was born on September 2nd, 1899 in Danbury, Connecticut to Jacob and Anna Williams Collins. Not much is known about his early life other than the fact that he was college-educated and was a journalist for a short period of time. However, Collins had a long history of military service and was clearly dedicated to supporting his country and the fight against fascism. When the war was declared in 1914, Collins and thousands of other African-Americans enlisted in the military. Because black people were still barred from the marines and could only serve lowly positions in the navy, Collins served as a mess attendant in the Navy. His work did not stop there though, as and prior to leaving for Spain, he gained a total of eighteen years of military service, mostly in the ary.

Later, as a result of Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, Collins joined the Communist Party along with many other African Americans. Being the only country besides Liberia to have never been colonized, this invasion sparked uproars in America, particularly in New York City. Before leaving for Spain though, Collins married Florence McClain Montgomery on July 21st, 1936 in Manhattan. Only after a year of marriage though, Collins left for Spain aboard the SS President Harding on August 18th, 1937. His passport, which he had only received about a month before leaving indicated that he lived on 272 Manhattan Avenue.

After arriving in Spain on September 24th, Collins fought in the XV International Brigade. During his time in Spain, Collins was placed under suspicion by his superiors. According to Spanish military records, Collins was seen as untrustworthy and was considered a “bad element”. He wasn’t given positions with a lot of responsibility due to suspicion regarding material Spanish officials had on him, and officials were informed to disregard information he passed on. Reports in his files also marked him as being under observation for political reasons. He was even listed on the “Political Suspect and Bad Elements List” as being a “stool” in the WPA union in the United States. Unfortunately, not much information exists to explain these suspicions. He fought in Spain for about a year until he was severely wounded at Fuentes de Ebro on October 17th. One of the bloodiest battles of the war as well as the republic’s largest offensive cost Collins the ability to keep fighting. However, after a long recovery, he was released and assigned to Benicassim Hospital in Castello as the postmaster. After a few months, Collins began his return to New York. He left from Lehavre, France aboard the Manhattan on July 28th, and returned to New York on August 4th.

Collins returned to Manhattan to live with his wife for many years before dying on July 14th, 1968. He is currently buried at Military Graveyard on Long Island.

Sources Accessed June 3, 2022.

Ink, Social. “Collins, Leroy.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, May 30, 2020.

“Leroy Collins (1899-1968) - Find a Grave Memorial.” Find a Grave. Accessed June 3, 2022.

“List of African American Volunteers.” The Volunteer, March 6, 2021.

RGASPI F. 545, Op. 3, d. 849 IMG0059, IMG0091