Salaria Kea

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Salaria Kea
Salaria Kea.jpg
Born (1917-07-13)13 July 1917
Milledgeville, Georgia
Died 18 May 1990(1990-05-18) (aged 72)
Akron, Ohio
Known for Spanish Civil War
World War II
Medical career
Profession Nurse

Salaria Kea O'Reilly (born 13 July 1917 in Milledgeville, Georgia – died 18 May 1990 in Akron, Ohio) was an American nurse and desegregation activist who volunteered in both the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.[1] During the Spanish Civil War she was the only African American nurse working in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion.[2] [3]

Early life[edit]

Kea's father was a gardener at the Ohio State Hospital for the Insane in Columbus. He was stabbed to death by a patient when Salaria was a baby. After his death Kea's family moved to Akron.[1] Due the racial segregation Kea was forced to move New York in 1930 where she graduated the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing.[1] As a student she managed to end the segregation in the Harlem Hospital's staff dining room and was also able to improve the working conditions of African American nurses. After her graduation Kea stayed in New York and became the head nurse of Seaview Hospital.[2]

Spanish Civil War[edit]

During the Second Italo-Ethiopian War in 1935 Kea and her fellow nurses started raising money to send medical supplies to Ethiopian troops. She was also anxious to work as a nurse in Ethiopia but the emperor Haile Selassie did not accept foreign volunteers. About the same time Kea is said to join the Communist Party of America although she never admitted it on her later years. Kea also lectured across the United States to raise funds for the Second Spanish Republic. In 1936 she applied the American Red Cross to assist Midwest flood victims, but was rejected because of her ethnicity. During this time Kea developed strong anti-fascist views.[3] Kea decided to volunteer the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and joined the American Medical Bureau working with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in March 1937.[2]

Kea helped establish a field hospital at Villa Paz near the Spanish capital Madrid. [3] She was captured by the Spanish Nationalist Army but managed to escape with the help of International Brigades soldiers after being held for six weeks. In Villa Paz, Kea met an injured Irish soldier John Patrick O’Reilly whom she later married. In early 1938, Kea was transferred to different units in Aragon, Lerida and Barcelona and was finally injured in a bombing. Her wounds were so severe she was sent back to United States in May 1938. The same year, Kea wrote her Spanish memoirs While Passing Through. They were published as a pamphlet named Salaria Kea: A Negro Nurse in Republican Spain.[2]

World War II and later years[edit]

In 1940 John O’Reilly was allowed to immigrate the United States. He was soon drafted to World War II. In the beginning of 1944 Kea started working as a volunteer nurse for the United States Army, as the first African American nurses were allowed to recruit. After the war O'Reilly family lived in New York and Kea was working on several hospitals coordinating staff desegregation. In 1973 they retired to Akron where Kea died in 1990. In the United States Kea and O’Reilly experienced strong racism. Especially in Akron it was extensive, even personal threats and property damage. Kea often referred her time in the International Brigades as the best days of her life since she was free from discrimination.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Salaria Kea Biography Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Salaria Kea's Spanish memoirs". The Volunteer. 4 December 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Salaria Kea, "Doing Christ's Duty" in Jim Fyrth and Sally Alexander, Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War. London : Lawrence & Wishart, 1991.ISBN 9781905007875 (p. 151-4)

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