Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
Quote from Ethiopia’s Emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I
One of Africa’s most significant historical figures was born 118 years ago on July 23, 1892. The child who was born Tafari Makonnen was also given the name Haile Selassie at his christening. Born in Ejersa Goro, in the Harar province of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) he was the son of Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar and Woyzero Yeshimebet Ali Abajifar. His paternal grandmother, Princess Tenagnework Sahle Selassie, was an aunt of Emperor Menelik II.
On November 2, 1930 in a ceremony of great pomp and splendour His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia with titles including Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, Elect of God. The Ethiopian royal family traced its roots back to Makeda Queen of Sheba and King Solomon whose story appear in First Kings chapter 10 verses 1-13 and Second Chronicles chapter 9 verses 1–12 of the King James version of the Bible. The coronation of His Imperial Majesty was attended by leaders or representatives of 72 countries
Ethiopia and His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I fired the imagination of countless Africans in the Diaspora. Ethiopia as the sole African nation that had never been colonized by Europeans was a beacon of hope for those who had been separated from the continent for generations and knew that Europeans had carved up the continent to exploit the people and resources of the continent. Ethiopia was the Promised Land for those generations who had been born of enslaved Africans and only knew of Ethiopia from what they had read in the Bible.
Since most Africans in the Diaspora had been Christianized, the Bible and what it contained was of paramount importance. The messages in the Bible comforted generations who had forgotten that their ancestors had been forced to accept Christianity. As a very spiritual people Africans adopted and adapted Christianity. When the white supremacists sought to convince Africans that they were less than human they could read in the Bible that Africans had been included in this Christian holy book since Ethiopia and Ethiopians are mentioned in several meaningful ways. Ethiopia being one of the earliest nations to embrace Christianity was also highly regarded by Africans in the Diaspora.
Apart from the Queen of Sheba, Ethiopia and Ethiopians are mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible several times. In Numbers chapter 12, verse 1, we read that Moses married an Ethiopian woman much to the displeasure of his siblings Aaron and Miriam. If as in some cases European Christians tried to make Ethiopians white there was proof in the Bible that this was not so.
In Jeremiah 13, 23 the question is asked “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” We could also read about African royalty: Tirhakah king of Ethiopia is mentioned in Isaiah 37, 9. In Psalms 68, 31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” Chronicles 2, 16, 8 has documented proof of the might of Africans in those ancient times: “Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen?” and also in 2 Chronicles chapter 14 verse 9 “And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and came unto Mareshah.”
In 1993 William R. Scott published The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1941 where he documents the support that many African Americans gave to Ethiopians when the Italians attempted for the second time to colonize Ethiopia. In 1994 Joseph E. Harris published African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941 where he discusses the efforts of African Americans to support Ethiopia. African Americans lobbied the reluctant United States government to support Ethiopians as they struggled to maintain their independence and freedom from the Italians who were brutally attacking Ethiopians in a desperate effort to claim the country as their colony.
In doing research for this article I read several other books about His Imperial Majesty where he was both revered and reviled. However, after all that he is still the regal figure posed in various framed photographs in my grandparents’ home whose eyes seemed to follow us around the room especially after we learned that he was descended from a common ancestor with Jesus (King David).
Whatever information we may read about His Imperial Majesty or hear from people who knew him or think they knew him the fact is that he inspired generations of Africans in the Diaspora who looked to Ethiopia for proof that we are a great people capable of defending and maintaining our freedom. In his royal bearing we saw evidence that the images of Tarzan movies that sought to denigrate our heritage was just fiction and this Emperor from Ethiopia was the reality. His Imperial Majesty visited Trinidad and Tobago on April 18, 1966 for a three day visit and spoke at the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago
On April 21, 1966 he visited Jamaica where he received an overwhelming welcome as he arrived for a three day visit.
His Imperial Majesty visited Haiti on April 24, 1966 ending his three Caribbean island visit.
The reception that the Ethiopian Emperor His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I received when he visited the Caribbean islands in 1966 and the support from Africans in the Diaspora when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1936 proves that there is hope for us to unite as African people. This hope of unity was recently demonstrated at the Forum that took place on July 18, 2010 at OISE where members of the African Canadian community and allies attended and began organizing to address the issue of racial profiling. We refuse to be inactive and allow the evil of racial profiling to silence the voice of justice.