Sylvia Thompson, 1924-2012, Presente!

Sylvia H. Thompson, who spent her life fighting for the poor and oppressed and championing the legacy of the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, died of cancer in December in New York City.

Thompson was born Sylvia Bernard in 1924 in San Antonio, Texas. As a young woman, she joined the Communist Party and helped launch the Civil Rights Congress in Texas. In 1947, she traveled to North Carolina where she spent more than a year organizing electrical workers to join the union. It was there that she met her first husband, Sam Hall, a district organizer for the Party. The young couple moved to Birmingham, Alabama where, as open communists, they endured constant surveillance, threats and break-ins.

After Hall’s death, Sylvia moved to New York City where she went to work for the state Party office and met her second husband, Robert G. Thompson in late 1957. Bob Thompson had been a battalion commander with the Lincoln Brigade in Spain, and went on to receive one of the highest medals for valor – the Distinguished Service Cross – for his heroic actions in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

When he died in 1965, Sylvia sought and received permission from the Army to have his ashes interred in Arlington National Cemetery. However, when publicity about Bob’s previous imprisonment as a Smith Act defendant surfaced, the Army reversed itself and denied the widow’s request.

Sylvia took the matter to court as well as to the American people, coordinating a campaign to expose the Army’s shameful actions. In 1968, a federal appeals court ordered the Army to inter Bob Thompson’s ashes.

In subsequent years, Sylvia became a mainstay in the New York office of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, working with veterans and organizing the annual reunions.

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5 Responses to “Farewell to Sylvia Thompson, Fighter for Justice and Friend of the OUL”

Thomas S Larson April 4, 2013

Great loss. I met her in 2008 and she had a great committment to social justice. She was great company. She and I saw Robert Glaspar, a jazz pianist, at the Miller Theater in 09. She was great company. Much history of the left died with her.

Sara Harris Kamenshikova February 10, 2013

I am so sad to hear of Sylvia’s passing. It is hard to imagine New York without her dynamism and enthusiasm! Sylvia never stopped fighting for the common man. She was a dear friend (even called herself ‘my fifth parent’!) I will miss her.

Amy Gottlieb January 19, 2013

Sylvia was a beautiful woman; passionate about justice and generous beyond compare. She was a dear friend to my parents Harry and Sara Gottlieb and to me. I will miss her. Any plans for a memorial?

Anonymous January 12, 2013

Farewell, Sylvia. San Antonio produced many fine friends of the working class and fighters for economic justice.

Sue Susman January 10, 2013

I didn’t know that Sylvia died – and am sad to hear that yet another fighter has gone.

Are you aware of memorial arrangements?