Archive/Thomas Page

Tags: African American Unemployed Councils Member Of Communist Party Cordoba Front Ebro Offensive WWII Veteran

Researcher: Alexandra Norbert

Thomas Page was born on September 29th, 1909. He only attended 2 years of high school, and as a young African American in New York City, he experienced a lot of difficulty finding jobs. When the Great Depression hit, this struggle became worse, and he resorted to making and selling illegal alcohol. During the Great Depression, the Communist Party worked to organize Unemployed Councils from the third of the population that was jobless. Page joined the Unemployed Councils, protesting for jobless support and more opportunities for workers. As he saw it, “it was the Communist Party who did everything, everyone else just talked”. Thus, following many involved in the Unemployed Councils, Page joined the Communist Party.

Page seemed to have planned for his involvement in Spain long in advance, obtaining a passport in 1934. At the time, he was living at 14 Randall Court Rockville Center in Long Island, just outside of Queens. He enlisted on February 18th, 1934, and finally went to Spain on March 10th, 1937 aboard the Washington. Once in Spain, he was assigned to drive a truck towards the Cordoba Front. After this mission, he was assigned to the machine gun company in the 20th International Battalion. Afterwards, he joined the International Brigade Auto Park, again as a driver. Due to the high numbers of casualties in the Battle of Brunette, the Washington Battalion and Abraham Lincoln Battalion were merged, forming the Lincoln-Washington (or simply Lincoln) Battalion. This was the Anglo-American battalion Page joined. He became a squad leader within the Battalion, helping to train new Spanish conscripts, as the international battalions became mixed with Spanish soldiers. In the Ebro campaign, he was cited twice for bravery, sustaining two wounds to his shoulder and stomach and remaining in a hospital for much of the rest of his time in Spain. On December 10th, 1938 he took a Cunard Line ship, the RMS Ausonia, back to New York City. Though his time there was under a year, he experienced both the hardship and triumph that was the international battalions in Spain, later recounting in an interview, “You give it everything you possibly can. You go out there with no shoes on, you go out there unabrigados(1), you go out there without an overcoat. You wanna win. You don’t get cold, you don’t get hot, you stick, you stay, you wanna win. That’s what it means. I’ve been so cold my hands are like, I couldn’t open them up, but I didn’t mind the cold. You wanna win. Other people, they wanna win. Slept under a little bit of straw, no blanket over you, but you gotta win. Wear a pair of overalls...and it’s cold in Spain, it’s very cold in Spain, but you wanna win: you’re staying.”

Back in New York City, he continued to be a stable member of the Communist Party, working as a guard for the Soviet Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair. He also took up work as a guard for the New York fur market, likely using his experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War as credentials. When World War II broke out, he jumped at the chance to again fight Fascism, joining the U.S. Army. He likely felt the stark difference in experience between this and the Spanish Civil War, as he was again in a segregated environment. He was assigned to Company C, 376th Engineering Brigade, and served in North Africa, France, and Italy. After the war, he took up camera work, working both to repair cameras and as a photographer. During the second red scare and McCarthyism, he was of course questioned and followed by the FBI, but his stubbornness led them to move on. He died in April, 1985.

(1) The phrase is unclear in the interview, but it seems like he is using a Spanglish phrase coming from the word ‘abrigados’, which can mean people wearing jackets. Thus ‘unabrigados’ means jacket-less people, which he translates in the next clause: without an overcoat.


Sources

Ink, Social. “Promoting Social Activism and the Defense of Human Rights.” 

 

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, alba-valb.org/.
 

Ryder, Peter J. “In Memory of HMS Ausonia and Her Crew.” HMS Ausonia, 15 May 2019, hmsausonia.co.uk/.
 

Buckner, Noel and Mary Dore, directors. The Good Fight: the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. First-Run Features, 1984.


Green, James. Workers' Struggles, Past and Present: A "Radical America" Reader. Temple University Press, . 

 

Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/book.59700.


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