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Guide to the Papers of James Bernard Rucker ALBA.212

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Jessica Weglein and Elizabeth Compa

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 21, 2019
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Rucker, James Bernard, 1912-1992
Title: James Bernard Rucker Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1942-1957, (Bulk 1943-1945)
Dates [bulk]: 1943-1945
Abstract: James Bernard (Bunny) Rucker (1912-1992) fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain and later served with the segregated 92nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during World War II. The collection consists chiefly of letters written by Rucker to his wife Helen during World War II, which cover the period he was stationed stateside, his year of active service in Italy, and his protracted hospitalization. There are also materials related to Langston Hughes (who Rucker met in Spain) including several letters from Hughes to Rucker, typescript poems, and a signed copy of "Simple in the United Nations."
Quantity: 1.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Call Phrase: ALBA.212

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Historical/Biographical Note

James Bernard (Bunny) Rucker was born in Roanoke, Virginia, on April 11, 1912 to James Oscar Rucker and Nancy Gabrella Garrett. He was the third child of a family of twelve siblings. Both of his parents attended classes at black colleges, his mother at Tuskegee in Alabama and his father at Harpur in Georgia. In order to escape the virulent racism of the South, the family moved to Columbus, Ohio where Rucker's father found work in a steel mill and served as a minister in the Christian Socialist movement. Upon graduation from high school Rucker joined the Civilian Conservation Corps - one of the New Deal programs of the 1930s -- and traveled to California and Washington State working on forest conservation and road construction projects.

With the outbreak of war in Spain, Rucker joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (ALB) and sailed for Spain via France on the President Rooseveltin February 1937. Rucker was one of 83 known African-American volunteers who fought in the integrated International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. He served in the conflict as a driver, transporting supplies behind enemy lines. While in Spain, Rucker met and formed a friendship with Langston Hughes, who was there as a journalist-observer. Following the withdrawal of the International Brigades, Rucker left Spain, crossing the Pyrenees into France and returning to the United States late in 1938.

Upon his return to Columbus, Rucker became a founding member of the Vanguard League, an organization dedicated to the integration of movie theaters, community swimming pools, and other public spaces. Reared in a politically engaged family, Rucker was no stranger to activism. During World War I, the senior Rucker was jailed as a conscientious objector. Late in the 1930s, Rucker's brother Oscar ran on the Communist Party ticket in Ohio for Lieutenant Governor and Rucker became an active member in the Party, assisting his brother in his bid for office.

He moved to New York, and in February 1942, was induced into the United States Army along with five of his brothers. He was assigned to the segregated 92nd Infantry Division and during his early tour of duty was stationed in the United States at Fort Bragg, NC and later Fort Huachuca, AZ. In May 1943 Rucker wed Helen Mulnick, a German-American who shared his commitment to progressive goals; civil rights leader and Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. presided over the ceremony.

Rucker was stationed in Louisiana until July 1944 when he embarked for Italy on the S.S. Algonquin. He initially served in the medical division and later as part of an infantry unit at the Front. He fought in the Rome-Arno, the Northern Apennines, and the Po Valley campaigns. He was wounded in action in April 1945, sustaining serious injuries when shrapnel shattered his thigh leaving bone fragments in his abdomen. He was hospitalized overseas until August of 1945 before being transferred to Halloran Hospital, a V.A. unit on Staten Island, where he remained for an additional two years receiving treatment for his wounds. Rucker was honorably discharged from the Army in August 1947, and awarded three bronze stars and a purple heart.

By 1948 he was at work in New York City as an organizer for Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate for president. In 1949 Rucker ran for City Council from the 23rd District on Vito Marcantonio's American Labor Party ticket; also sharing the ticket were Benjamin J. Davis and ALB veteran, Ralph Fasanella. Rucker took advantage of the GI bill and was admitted to Columbia University in 1952 were he gained a BA and a Master's degree in Library Science. He and his wife had one child, Naomi Gabrella, and the family moved to New Jersey where Rucker served as chief librarian for the East Orange Public Library for over 20 years. Rucker died of cancer in a V.A. hospital in East Orange, New Jersey on February 22, 1992. He was 80 years old.

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Scope and Content Note

Series I, Correspondence, 1942-1946, consists chiefly of letters written by Rucker to his wife Helen during World War II. These cover the period he was stationed in the United States, his year of active service in Italy, and his protracted hospitalization. These letters serve as an extended meditation on his political and social convictions most particularly his views on fighting fascism in a segregated ("Jim Crow") army. His letters include references to incidences of discrimination stemming not only from his race but also from his involvement in the war in Spain; commentary on the ills of capitalism; and his faith in the strength of the interracial union between he and his wife. Among the references to contemporary culture are the 1938 heavy-weight fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling; Paul Robeson's 1942 appearance in the New York production of Othello; Benjamin Davis' New York City Council campaign; and Howard Fast's  Freedom Road. Also of note are two letters written in April 1944 that contain Rucker's reminiscences about comrades that he lost in Spain. This series also includes three letters that Helen Rucker wrote to her husband while he was confined to Halloran Hospital in Long Island.

Series II, Subject Files, 1942-1959, in addition to documents related to Rucker's military service, including a copy of his service record and his honorable discharge, are a file of materials related to Langston Hughes. Included are several letters from Hughes to Rucker, typescript poems, and his signed typescript of "Simple in the United Nations."

Series III, Armed Forces Periodicals, 1944-1945 include representative issues of Armed Forces publications that Rucker accrued during his time in service. Most of these require preservation attention; the archivist should be consulted before these materials are used.

Series IV, Artifact, circa 1944, contains one item, a utility pouch issued by the American Red Cross.


Series I is arranged chronologically with outgoing correspondence proceeding incoming correspondence. Series II and III are arranged alphabetically. There is one item in series IV.

Organized into three series:

Missing Title

  1. I. Correspondence, 1942-1946.
  2. II. Subject Files, 1942-1959.
  3. III. Armed Forces Periodicals, 1944-1945.
  4. IV. Artifact, circa 1944

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Rucker, James Bernard, 1912-1992
  • Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967

Document Type

  • Periodicals.
  • Correspondence.
  • Drafts (documents)

Subject Organizations

  • Spain. Ejercito Popular de la Republica. Abraham Lincoln Battalion
  • Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

Subject Topics

  • World War, 1939-1945 |v Personal narratives, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- African Americans.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, African American.

Subject Places

  • United States |x Armed Forces |x African Americans |x History.
  • Fort Bragg (N.C.)
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Participation, American.
  • Fort Huachuca (Ariz.)

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Administrative Information


The James Bernard Rucker Papers were donated to New York University in November 2003 by Helen Rucker.

Access Restrictions

Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives for more information and to schedule an appointment, tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu or 212-998-2630.

Use Restrictions

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the donor were transferred to New York University. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. For more information, contact tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu or 212-998-2630.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

ALBA collections at the Tamiment Library.

Separated Material

Photographs have been transferred to the non-print section of the ALBA collection in the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.

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Container List

Series I: Correspondence

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Outgoing correspondence
Mar 1942
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Outgoing correspondence
Mar 1943-Oct 1943
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Outgoing correspondence
Nov 1943-Dec 1943
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Outgoing correspondence
Jan 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Outgoing correspondence
Mar 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Outgoing correspondence
Apr 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Outgoing correspondence
May 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Outgoing correspondence
Jun 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Outgoing correspondence
Jul 1944-Sep 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Outgoing correspondence
Oct 1944-Nov 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Outgoing correspondence
Dec 1944
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Outgoing correspondence
Jan 1945-Feb 1945
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Outgoing correspondence
Mar 1945-Apr 1945
Box: 1 Folder : 14 Outgoing correspondence
May 1945-Jun 1945
Box: 1 Folder : 15 Outgoing correspondence
Oct 1945
Box: 1 Folder : 16 Outgoing correspondence
Nov 1945-Dec 1945
Box: 1 Folder : 17 Outgoing correspondence
Jan 1946-Mar 1946
Box: 1 Folder : 18 Incoming correspondence (Helen Rucker)
Nov 1945
Box: 3 From Bunny Rucker to Helen Rucker (overseas)
Box: 3 From Bunny Rucker to Helen Rucker (overseas)
Box: 3 From Bunny Rucker to Helen Rucker
Box: 3 From Bunny Rucker to Helen Rucker (hospital)
Box: 3 To Bunny Rucker from Helen Rucker (overseas)
Box: 3 To Bunny Rucker from Helen Rucker (hospital)
Box: 3 Unsent Letters from Helen Rucker
Box: 3 Misc. Cards, etc.
1940s, undated

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Series II: Subject Files

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 19 Army Papers (certificates, correspondence)
Box: Shared Tamiment 040 Folder : 20 Hughes, Langston
Box: 1 Folder : 21 US Army Hospital Ship Algonquin: postcard

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Series III: Armed Forces Periodicals

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Barnacle: Journal of US Army Hospital Ship Algonquin  
Aug 1945
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Infantry Day in the 92  nd  Division
Jun 15, 1944
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Military Review: Command and General Staff School, Ft. Leavenworth, KS, Vol. XXV, No. 8  
Nov 1945
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Mission Accomplished: Mediterranean Theater of Operation US Army Publication  
May 1945
Box: 2 Folder : 5 The Stars & Stripes Mediterranean: Vol. 1, No. 247  
May 9, 1945
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Yank: The Army Weekly: Mediterranean Edition, Vol. 2, No. 2  
May 18, 1945
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Yank: The Army Weekly: Mediterranean Edition, Vol. 2, No. 23  
Aug 3, 1945

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Series IV: Artifacts

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 8 American Red Cross Utility Pouch

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