Poet Ray Durem born


Ray Durem
Date: 
Fri, 1914-01-30

*Ray Durem was born on this date in 1914. He was an African American activist and poet.

Ramón Durem was born in Seattle, Washington of mixed heritage.  Leaving home at fourteen, he briefly served in the U.S. Navy before suffering a leg injury that forced his discharge.  He then worked as a laborer until enrolling at the University of California in Berkeley where he joined the Communist Party in 1931 and volunteered to join the Loyalist cause in Spain.

Durem left the United States in March 1937 and was wounded in the Brunete Offensive of that year.  During his long recuperation at the American hospital in Villa Paz, Durem met and married a Brooklyn nurse named Rebecca Schulman.  Durem returned to the front in 1938 and participated in the Ebro Offensive.  In October, around the same time Rebecca was having his first child (named Dolores for La Pasionaria) in New York, he marched in Barcelona’s farewell parade.  He was expatriated in December. The Durem family moved to Los Angeles and had two more daughters while he became an active union organizer. 

Durem left the Communist Party after World War II when, as he later wrote, he “discovered that even the white radicals were not interested in a radical solution to the Negro Question.”  He divorced Rebecca, married an African American woman, and moved to Mexico.  It was during this period that Durem wrote the poetry for which he is best remembered.  Durem spent the last year of his life in Los Angeles and died of cancer in December 1963. Writing as “Ray Durem,” his poetry’s strident tone attracted the attention of Black Nationalist Robert Williams and writer Langston Hughes.  Published in several newspapers, literary journals, and poetry anthologies, he is known especially for the volume Take No Prisoners released posthumously in 1971. 

Ray Durem’s work was very important to the Black Power movement, serving as a both a political compass and cultural inspiration.

References:
Danny Duncan Collum and Victor A. Berch, African Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethiopia, But It’ll Do” (New York, New York: G.K. Hall & Co, 1992); Ray Durem, Take No Prisoners (London, UK: Paul Breman, 1971); Peter Wyden, The Passionate War (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).

To be a Writer

Person / name: 

Durem, Ray