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Marion Monden Noble was an Arkansas-born lifelong communist who is one of three Arkansans known to have served with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War (the others being pilot Frank Glasgow Tinker and composer Conlon Nancarrow).
Marion Noble was born on May 4, 1911, in Garner (White County), one of six children of Isom J. Noble and Cora Noble. His father was a railroad worker known for treating both black and white workers equally, but he lost his job along with thousands of others during a railroad strike. By 1920, the family was living in Higginson (White County), where his father started a car repair business. Noble worked there as a mechanic before leaving to attend the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1930. After a year and a half in Fayetteville, he left to take classes at Illinois State Normal University (which later became Illinois State University), where he wrote a 13,000-word essay on the Soviet Union. Though his professor wanted it placed in the university library, the institution’s president suppressed it and blocked Noble from enrolling for the next semester.
Noble then moved on to Commonwealth College in Mena (Polk County), where the socialist curriculum meshed with his emerging social consciousness, and he immersed himself in leftist newspapers. In December 1933, he joined the Communist Party, in which he would remain active for nearly seventy years.
As the Spanish Civil War commenced, Noble decided in 1937 to cross the Atlantic to combat the fascist regime and its allies, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Forty-three Commonwealth students would fight in the Spanish Civil War, and six would die. Purporting to be a tourist heading to France for the World’s Fair in Paris, Noble slipped across the Spanish border and joined the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade (actually a battalion).
Once in Spain, Noble’s experience as an auto mechanic led to him being posted at the military garage of the XV Brigade, known as the International Brigade. Having worked with many poor customers in Depression-era Arkansas, Noble may have been uniquely qualified for work in Republican Spain, where new parts were non-existent and he reportedly “had to file bearings, hammer the insides of rings to give them tension, weld broken part, lace cracked motor blocks, even weld broken pistons, weld in burned sides of valves, and grind them round, etc.” He was put in charge of American vehicles, leading a seven-man crew of Americans and Britons who worked from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. or midnight seven days a week. In October 1938, the foreign fighters were ordered to leave Spain and return to their home countries. An evaluation of Noble by the Spanish Communist Party concluded that “his general political attitude and the part which he has played in in the political life is characterized by the following qualities: active, excellent attitude, and a very good worker.”
Noble moved to Detroit, where he married Ruth Friedman on March 22, 1943. He operated a garage, as his father had done, and joined the United Auto Workers while remaining an active member of the Communist Party, making him a continuing target for investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He died in Huntington Woods, Michigan, aged ninety-one, on October 5, 2002.
For additional information:
Dillard, Tom. “Fighters against Fascist Forces.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 12, 2018, p. 2H.
Donat, Clark. “For Money or Ideology: Frank Glasgow Tinker and Marion Monden Noble in the Spanish Civil War.” Honors thesis, University of Arkansas, 2007.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 11/30/2018
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