October 3, 1935: Ethiopia, one of the only two independent African nations at the time, is invaded on by facist Italy under Benito Mussolini. The Italians, seeking revenge for their prior humiliating loss to Ethiopia over 40 years earlier, commit countless atrocities on the independent African state. Poison gas, aerial bombardment, flame-throwers and concentration camps are all employed against the ill-equipped Ethiopian people.
Black outrage at these war crimes was universal and equanimous.
The League of Nations, forerunner to the UN, was criticized sharply for supplying weapons to Italy and not to Ethiopia. Such actions confirmed the suspicion that the war was had a racial motivation and sought to extinguish the last light of African power in the world. What became the “Black Peril” was the largest ever mobilization of Africans the world had ever seen over 500,000,000 strong. From Kingston to Johannesburg, from Detroit to Ghana, form Port-of-Spain to Paris, Black men and women offered to go fight in defense of Ethiopia.
And, as battles raged between Ethiopians and Italians in Africa, battles raged between Blacks and Italians in the streets of New York. In South Africa, Black workers began a lengthy march up the continent to assist their African brothers in Ethiopia. Elsewhere, ex-service men discarded their European and American citizenships to bring their military expertise to the defense of Ethiopia. The exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I became a legendary figure to many. Not before or ever since was such a strong sense of Pan-Africanism seen throughout the world. And though Italy initially succeeded in occupying the African nation, Blacks everywhere would continue the struggle until Ethiopia was free.