Ethiopians and African Americans

Ethiopians owe a lot to African Americans

By Ghelawdewos Araia

African Americans, both in the micro (US citizens of African heritage) and macro sense (people of African descent in the Diaspora) have made huge contribution and sacrifice for the independence and sovereignty of Ethiopia.

When Ethiopia vanquished Italy on March 2, 1896 at the Battle of Adwa, Black people all over the world, including African Americans celebrated the Ethiopian victory. Benito Sylvain, Haitian political leader and diplomat, went to Ethiopia in 1897 to congratulate Emperor Menelik and the Ethiopian people on their resounding victory. The African Methodist Episcopal Zionist, the first Black Church in the United States, was popularly known as the Ethiopian Church. When the Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan was segregated (split into White and Black), the African American congregation sought refuge in Harlem and established their church, known as Abyssinian Baptist Church. In 1935, when the Italians invaded Ethiopia to avenge their defeat at Adwa, violent clashes took place in Harlem, New York, between African Americans who were rallied around the Ethiopian cause and Italian Americans, who supported Fascist Italy. At the same time, C. L. R. James, a Trinidadian political activist and author, living in London, organized the International Friends of Ethiopia. Similarly, the charismatic Marcus Garvey of Jamaica, who was the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), designated ‘Ethiopia, Land of our Fathers’, as the national anthem for his universal African movement.

Thanks to C. L. R. James and Marcus Garvey, protest movements in favor of Ethiopia mushroomed in the United States and the Caribbean during the Italian-Ethiopian conflict of 1936-1941. In Washington, DC, protest leaders like Ralph Bunche, William Steen, and William Leo Hansberry were joined by two Africans from the Continent, namely Melaku Beyen of Ethiopia and Hosea Nya Bongo of Uganda, and they founded the Ethiopian Research Council. In the middle of the struggle for Ethiopian independence, Melaku Beyen and his African American colleagues founded Ethiopian World Federation with its newspaper, The Voice of Ethiopia.

The prominent Trinidadian pan-Africanist, George Padmore, wrote “Ethiopia in World Politics” and condemned the Italian aggression against Ethiopia. Jomo Kenyatta, who was then in exile in London and served as honorary chair of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, wrote “Hands of Abyssinia” in Labour Monthly of September 1935.

In West Africa, major newspapers like The Sierra Leone Weekly, the Nigerian Daily Times, The Gold Coast Spectator, and the West African Pilot all expressed the fury of the African people against Italian attack on Ethiopia. In New York City, African American and Afro-Caribbean medical doctors formed a medical team that would supply medicine to Ethiopia, while others conducted fund raise for the Ethiopian cause. Joseph Harris, the Howard University historian, writes that two African Americans, John Robinson and Hubert Julian, joined the Ethiopian armed forces, but after the temporary setback and brief Italian occupation of Ethiopia, they were compelled to return back to the United States.

After Ethiopia gained its independence in 1941, Joseph Harris tells us again that African American and Afro-Caribbean teachers, mechanics, and pilots went to Ethiopia and trained the first pilots of the Ethiopian Air Force and Ethiopian Air Lines. A decade after independence, the Emperor Haile Selassie, made an official visit to the United States, stops by New York City and paid tribute to African Americans by going to the Abyssinian Baptist Church and by presenting an Ethiopian cross to the then Reverend (later congressman from Harlem) Adam Calyton Powell. That was a thank you gesture to African Americans.

Ethiopians owe a lot to African Americans. They must pay tribute to them, and respect their African heritage. Ethiopians, above all, must appreciate the condition and struggle wrought by African Americans, without which the present Ethiopian Diaspora would have been unable to enjoy the benefits of the lager American society. African Americans struggled and sacrificed for racial equality that culminated in the Brown Vs. Board Of Education of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Indeed, African Americans paved the way for other minorities in the United States as well.

Source: Institute of Development and Education for Africa, Inc.


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