The Lincoln Brigade was the first racially integrated American fighting unit of the post-Civil War period. Made up of volunteers, primarily socialists, communists and fellow travelers these men traveled to Spain to fight on the side of the Spanish Republican government against the fascist forces of Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Franco was backed by Nazi Germany (who sent forces of her own to aid the general).
Alongside working class volunteers from around the world, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fought valiantly against fascist expansion in Europe. The men of the Lincoln Brigade took up arms in this cause five years before the United States officially joined World War II in 1942. Yet today their contribution to this cause is largely unknown.
Monuments are often as much about forgetting as remembering and this monument is the only one of its kind in the state of Washington (as opposed to the 3 monuments celebrating Washington's non-existent Confederate veterans). The monument commemorates members of the Brigade that came from the University of Washington. The diminutive statue is situated across the path from the UW’s student union, known as The Hub. While not hidden from view, the monument is not easily noticed by passersby. The wording on the statue explains that the Brigade came to the aid of Spanish Republicans, but makes no mention of the politics of either side: neither the leftist, communist politics of the Republicans and their supporters nor the fascist politics of Franco. By leaving out this language the monument shies away from engaging viewers in a meaningful discussion of the political beliefs and conflicts of the day.
While Seattle is often noted as a politically progressive city, making this a “natural” location for such a monument, this city also has a long and brutal legacy of nativism and racism wrapped up in its labor politics. The participation of eleven UW students in the Brigade shows that Seattleites were capable of transcending divisive racism in favor of unified, international struggle. Highlighting this statue on campus tours and in everyday campus life would bring greater understanding of Seattle’s history to light.