ALB scholarship at Wayne State recognizes peace & justice

March 15, 2013

Detroiter Saul Wellman (l), together with Robert Thomson and David Doran, at Fuentes de Ebro. (The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 011, 11-0582. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.)

In 2013, the Wayne State University Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veterans Scholarship Committee will celebrate its 30th anniversary awarding scholarships to deserving students. It has been a long road that began during the Spanish Civil War when nearly 100 Michiganders joined the International Brigades. Four were Wayne State University students who put their studies aside to fight fascism in Spain. Of the four–Robert Nagle, Marsden Moran, Roy McQuarry, and Joe Rubenstein–three did not make it home. Nagle was the lone survivor.

Nearly 40 years later, Larry Cane, the well-known Mac Pap veteran, put Wayne State University professor Melvin Small in touch with his comrade, Saul Wellman, a local socialist activist and ALBA Board member. Wellman encouraged Small to start a scholarship commemorating the Wayne State Lincoln Brigadiers. In 1982, local veterans and leftist activists wooed Pete Seeger to give a concert in support of the award, an event so successful that it was recognized in the Congressional Record. The committee quickly raised enough money to endow a scholarship for currently enrolled Wayne State undergraduate and graduate students who, through their activities or research promoting peace and justice in social, political, and community engagement, best exemplify the values of the Wayne State University students who fought to defend the Spanish Republic. Since 1982, the Wayne State Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veterans Scholarship Committee has awarded many deserving students and held cultural-scholarly events each year.

Over 40 students have been recognized for their work promoting peace and social justice. Their efforts have tackled both local and global problems. The first award went to Russell Bellant, a crusading editor of the student newspaper. Subsequent awardees included Evan Dixon, a student who organized against South African apartheid; Richard Winslow, who established free medical clinics; Mary Bloomer, a founder of the pioneering Detroit Focus Gallery, which supports local artists; and Zvezdana Kuric, who provided humanitarian relief to citizens of Croatia during the War in the Balkans. Most recent awards went to Barbara Jones for her social activism to resolve conflict peacefully in Detroit neighborhoods, and Matthew Clark, a law student at Wayne, for his legal defense of local activists and for developing an ordinance preventing water utility shutoffs for Detroit residents who cannot afford to pay their water bills. Other recipients have worked with Central American refugees, provided support to African American AIDS victims, run a progressive music commune; organized unions; and founded a local chapter of Amnesty International.

John Weldon, Lincoln-Washington Secretary, and Felix Kuzman, Darmos, April 1938. (The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection, ALBA PHOTO 011.ref1460.2, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.)

Past recipients have continued their fights promoting peace and social justice after earning their awards. Some have taken their fights beyond Michigan. Bob Fitrakis, the 1984 recipient, became a journalist and Green Party candidate in Ohio. Anthony Talarico, who received the scholarship for his work organizing residents of the slums of Rio de Janeiro went to graduate school in international policy in Colorado. Other recipients have remained in Detroit to improve social conditions there. Eric Frankie became an employment rights lawyer after his activism fighting for student rights. Barry Johnson, a recent recipient, continues to beautify the area with environmental work as part of the Greening of Detroit group.

The Committee has also held cultural and scholarly events related to the Spanish Civil War and the history of social movements. Javier Malagón, then the cultural attaché from the Spanish Embassy, inaugurated our annual event in 1983 with an emotional address that ended with him embracing all of the Lincoln Brigade veterans in attendance. Since then, several scholars, including Peter N. Carroll, Douglas Little, and Robin Kelley spoke on recent scholarship on the Spanish Civil War. There have also been very popular film screenings and the ALBA-curated Spanish Civil War poster exhibition, Shouts from the Wall.

The Wayne State University Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veterans Scholarship stands as the only student scholarship in the United States honoring the veterans of the Lincoln Brigade. As the lives of the Lincoln Brigadiers in Michigan have turned to memories, this scholarship continues their legacy by championing the next generation of students who go out of their way to fight for justice and make their world a better place.

Aaron Retish, an ALBA board member, teaches Russian and Soviet history at Wayne State University.


One Response to “ ALB scholarship at Wayne State recognizes peace & justice ”

  1. Brian Moyer on April 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Outstanding article on the Michiganders who contributed to the Lincoln Brigade. Being a son of Detroit and growing up in household were our parents,aunts and uncles and grandparents lived and breathed the labor movement at work in the auto plants building cars for the world, construction sites as tradesmen. The Lincoln Brigade Veterans are a role model to the youth of America and it is a honor to see the youth fighting to right a wrong in the name of justice and social activism….No Pasaran!