Mary and I Are Glad Our Son Went To Spain

May 10, 2018

Southern Worker


Southern Father and Mother Tell How the Spanish People’s Fight for Democracy Belongs to Them

By Pat Barr

Southern Worker, Magazine of the Common People of the South, Vol. V, No. 16, July 1937.

It was a happy group that gathered at the railroad station to see Fred Williams off. Fred, only 21, was one of the first Southern boys who volunteered to join the loyal Abraham Lincoln brigade fighting the German, Italian, and Spanish fascists in Spain. Fred’s mother and dad were there too. We had thought they wouldn’t come, and when they did, we were a little afraid to see how they would act. I know I felt a lump as big as an apple come up in my throat when I saw all three of them come. I thought of how I would feel if I were sending my only son off to war.

But when we saw the three Williams, mother, father and son, walking down the platform of the station, laughing and joking, we knew that they were proud of Fred, as proud as any two workers can be to see that their son was carrying on the fight they had fought their live, what their great grandparents had fought for generations past.

Soon the train whistled and came to a quick stop. We all made a grab for Fred’s hand, wished him the best of luck and made him promise to write back to us often. His father slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Well son, I haven’t got as long as you to live. I sure wish that they would take us old fellows.” “Aw, Dad, what would you do with your flat feet in the trenches”, smiled Fred. His mother kissed him. “Fred,” she said, “I know now that I have brought you up to fight for what is right. I’m not a bit sorry to see you go. You just remember that we’re doing our part here. And when you come back we hope we’ll have a lot to show.”

Back at the Williams house when we were having supper, I told them how proud we were of they as well as Fred. There aren’t many parents that could do that with your spirit, I told them.

“I don’t think that’s so,” Mr. Williams said. “Of the millions of workers and farmers of this country really understood what is going on in Spain today, they couldn’t help but want to give their all to the cause. There are thousands like Mary and me.”

Our fathers, her’s and mine, have been fighters as far back as they go. One of my great great great grandfathers fought in Washington’s Army in New York during the Revolutionary War. Some of his sons fought in the Civil War. I know I’ve fought all my life, and my father before me. We’ve fought for all the things especially dear to Americans, the things that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee us. My great great great grandfather was an artisan who came over from Ireland. And in the war for independence he gave his life not only to break the chains that held us under the tyranny of the English Empire, but to set up in this beautiful country of ours a government and a set of laws that would let every man say what he pleased come together and discuss what he wanted to, and print it for others to read also.

Mr. William’s father was a lumberjack, a farmer, and then a coal miner and iron worker. I asked whether he was in the labor movement of his time because I knew Dick Williams had held a union card ever since he was old enough to.

“Early in my father’s life,” Mr. Williams replied, “he found that he did not actually have the things for which our ancestors had fought. A ruling class had grown up in America which owned everything. There were no strong worker’s organizations in the 60’s. The bosses then as today paid the lowest wages they could get away with. The banks robbed him of his land when he tried to farm. Towards the end of the century, my father realized that the only way that he and people like him were ever going to have any real security and freedom would be for all the people who were stepped on and exploited to build a new world __ a socialist world, where there wouldn’t be any ruling class.

“So he joined the Socialist Party and became the secretary of the Socialist Party in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Mary’s father was a Socialist too. He came from Germany in the 80’s when they already had a strong socialist tradition in that country.

“I got my own spirit of fight up early, when I was just a kid. I remember the time when a famous Socialist of that time came to Clarksburg to Speak. Father had gone down to the station to meet him. My mother said I could go down too. So I went down towards the station. Half way down, I saw them walking back on the other side of the street. Suddenly the speaker, who was walking beside my father, dropped down to the sidewalk like a stone. I rushed across the street. No one heard a sound. But there he was lying dead from a bullet wound, blood covering his clothes and dripping onto the street. An investigation later brought out that two thugs in the employ of the Consolidated Coal and Iron Company had hidden in the bank building and shot him. They used a Maxim silencer, and got away. They were never caught.”

Mr. Williams himself went to work in 1899 as a steel worker. He was only 14 then, so he started learning early. He worked in the steel mills all over the country, from West Virginia to Alabama, Indiana, Ohio, Pittsburgh and then back South again. He was in first strike in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1911.

“During the great steel strike in 1919,” he went on, “I was in Pittsburgh. I remember meeting Bill Foster and Pat Cush there. We used to come in from the company towns to find out what was going on and get instructions. Those were the days when the Communist Party was just getting started. I was a Socialist and many were the hot and heavy discussions we had about whether the Communist Party had the right program to really make the farmers and workers happy, or whether the Socialist Party could. A lot of us even thought that the I. W. W. could do the job.

Most of us are Communists now – the fellows I fought with in those days and our sons. Bill Foster is one of the greatest leaders of the American workers today. Pat’s in our ranks, and I sure know where I am – in the Communist Party.

“Well, those are the things that we brought our only son Fred up to know. The things that he’ll be fighting for with other fellows in the Abraham Lincoln battalion are the things, in one way, that I’ve fought for all my life—in a word, democracy, peace, security, freedom – the things they fought for in 1776. The ruling class in Germany and Italy have organized into super organizations to fight the workers, to crush their trade unions, make them slave for hardly enough to keep them alive while the profits of the fascists grow fatter all the time.”

Ever since the people of Spain elected their own democratic government in general elections during February, 1935, the Spanish fascists have been trying to do the same thing as the fascists did in Italy and Germany. The people had voted to defend their own rights, their standard of living. But the fascists refused to accept the mandate of the people. So on July 17, 1936, the fascist tried to crush the duly elected People’s Government by force. The fight dragged on for months. The rebel fascists tried everything in their power to destroy the democratic government of Spain. So few of the Spanish people were with them that they had to hire Moors and other mercenaries, who destroyed town after town of people who weren’t fighting, churches, beautiful old Spanish buildings. They had no regard for women and children or the sick and wounded, and even made a point of bombing hospitals and schools. When the fascists of Italy and Germany saw that their cohorts, the Spanish fascists were losing ground, they immediately sent their own hordes of mercenaries to help them like the English hired the Hessians to try and beat us in 1776.

“I’m glad my son has volunteered to join the anti-fascist fighters, because I feel that the fight of the Spanish people is our fight, it’s the fight of the people like myself all over the world. We’ve got to defeat them in Spain because if Hitler and Mussolini win in Spain they will be in a much stronger military position in Europe. A victory for them will give them courage to thing that they can beat every democratic country in the world. It would be a signal for them to go ahead full speed with their war-making plans.

“and not only would a defeat of the loyal anti-fascist encourage Hitler and Mussolini, but it would also encourage guys like Morgan, the DuPonts, William Randolph Hearst and the rest of the moneybags in America to think that they could put over the same thing here.

“I’m only sorry that I cannot go myself. But Mary and I can at least do our part here. We’re going to join the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. The least we can do is help collect nickels and dimes from all our friends to buy cigarettes and chocolates for our Fred and the rest of the boys over there.

“Heck, Mary,” he turned around to his wife and said, just before I left them, “I sure wish my dad could have been alive and here to see Fred leave.”

(Editor’s Note: We wish to add our appeal to all of our readers to help make the life of our boys fighting for democracy over in Spain a little more comfortable by contributing whatever you can to buy smokes, candy and magazines for them. Send your contribution to the Friends of the Lincoln Battalion, 125 West 45th Street, New York, N. Y., or to the Southern Worker, Box 1132, Chattanooga, Tenn. Marked for the Friends of the Lincoln Battalion.)

There remains some question as to whether the Fred Williams in the Southern Worker story is a fictional character or the same Fred Williams who is known to have served in Spain.  Several items in the story are at odds with the record of volunteer Fred Williams. For example the publication date of the article precedes William’s receipt of a passport and Williams’ mother is identified as Lizzie and the mother in the story is listed as Mary. CB


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One Response to “ Mary and I Are Glad Our Son Went To Spain ”

  1. Gary Jones on May 10, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    Fascinating account.