Saturday, April 12, 2014

Salaria Kea

Salaria Kea was born in Georgia in 1917. Her father, an attendant at the Ohio State Hospital for the Insane, was stabbed to death when Kea was a child. His widow took her four children, including Salaria, to Akron, Ohio.
Kea became a nurse and while working at the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, led a successful campaign against racial segregation. In 1935 she helped to organize medical care in Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy.
In March 1937 Kea joined an American Medical Unit working with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. She later recalled: "I sailed from New York with the second American Medical Unit. I was the lone representative of the Negro race. The doctor in charge of the group refused to sit at the same table with me in the dining room and demanded to see the Captain. The Captain moved me to his table where I remained throughout the voyage."
Kea later recalled: "The Negro men who fought for Loyalist Spain never tire of telling how they celebrated when they got news that the Second American Medical Unit included a Negro nurse. Their battalion had been in the trenches 120 days of continuous fighting. I am told that during the entire First World War a fighting unit was never required to be under fire longer than this. Their clothing was shabby and worn. Many had so little to wear they could not appear in public. I was so excited over going to Spain I did not realize that many other Negroes had already recognized Spain's fight for freedom and liberty as a part of our struggle too. I didn't know that almost a hundred young Negro men were already fighting Hitler's and Mussolini's forces there in Spain.
Kea was captured by the Nationalist Army but after being held prisoner for seven weeks she managed to escape. Kea returned to her American Medical Unit but was badly wounded by a bomb while working in a field hospital. Her injuries were so severe she had to return to the United States. In 1938 she published Salaria Kea: A Negro Nurse in Republican Spain.
During the Second World War Kea worked as a nurse with the United States Army. While in Europe she met and married an Irish engineer, John P. O'Reilly.

After the war the O'Reilly family lived in New York before moving to Akron in 1975. Salaria Kea O'Reilly died in May 1990.

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