First Ethiopian Delegation to the U.S. in 1919 Made Headlines

The Chicago Defender newspaper covered the first Ethiopian delegation's visit to the U.S. in 1919.

Tadias Magazine

By Liben Eabisa

Updated: May 11th, 2007

New York (TADIAS) – The arrival of the first Ethiopian diplomatic delegation to the United States on July 11, 1919 made headlines in Chicago, where journalists eagerly awaited their opportunity to meet and interview the delegation.

At the time Woodrow Wilson was serving as the 28th President of the United States. In Ethiopia, Empress Zawditu, the eldest daughter of Emperor Menelik, was the reigning monarch.

Dejasmatch Nadew, Empress Zawdituís nephew and Commander of the Imperial Army, along with Ato Belaten-ghetta Hiruy Wolde Sellassie, Mayor of Addis Ababa, Kentiba Gebru, Mayor of Gonder, and Ato Sinkas, Dejamatch Nadew’s secretary, comprised the first official Ethiopian delegation to the United States in the summer of 1919.

The main purpose of their trip was to renew the 1904 Treaty of Amity (Friendship) between the United States and Ethiopia (brokered when President Theodore Roosevelt authorized US Ambassador Robert P. Skinner to negotiate a commercial treaty with Emperor Menelik).

The treaty had expired in 1917. This four-man delegation to the United States became known as the Abyssinian mission.

The delegation headed to the White House in Washington D.C. after their brief stay in Chicago.


Empress Zawditu of Ethiopia (In office: 1916 to 1930) and US President Woodrow Wilson (In office: March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921). Photos: Public Domain.

The group visited the U.S. at a time when blacks were by law second-class citizens and in some places the most common crime against American blacks was lynching. Before leaving Chicago, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, asked the Ethiopian delegation what they thought about lynching in the U.S. The representatives responded “[We] dislike brutality… lynching of any nature, and other outrages heaped upon your people.”

African-Americans were inspired to see a proud African delegation being treated with so much respect by U.S. officials. Newspapers reported that in honor of the delegation’s visit “the flag of Abyssinia, which is of green, yellow, and red horizontal stripes, flew over the national capitol.”

The Chicago Defender reported that the delegation expressed their support for the struggle of American blacks and gave them words of encouragement. A member of the press had inquired if the group had advice to African-Americans. Ato Hiruy Wolde Sellassie, who spoke fluent English, replied: “Fight on. Don’t Stop.”

The Ethiopian presence at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, dressed in their traditional white robe and pant attire attracted large attention.

Upon arriving in Washington D.C. they took up residence at the former Lafayette Hotel and awaited their formal presentation at the White House.

“It perhaps is of much interest to know that the Abyssinian religion is the oldest Christian religion in the world”, Captain Morris, the delegation’s chaperon, told reporters. “The queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon was once their queen, and the present ruler is descended from the queen of Sheba.”

The Ethiopian Mission enjoyed an overall warm welcome and before returning to Ethiopia they toured the cities of New York and San Francisco. They also visited an Irish Catholic cathedral, a Jewish synagogue, the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Harlem, and Yellowstone National Park.

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About the Author:
Liben Eabisa is Co-Founder & Publisher of Tadias Magazine.

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President Obama Becomes First Sitting U.S. President to Visit Ethiopia

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19 Responses to “First Ethiopian Delegation to the U.S. in 1919 Made Headlines”


  1. 1 Alemayehu Mergia Apr 17th, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Good work Liben. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the present generations.

    Alemayehu

  2. 2 Giorgis Dordoni May 18th, 2007 at 9:27 am

    Very nice article, Ato Liben.

    My only wish is that we would know the names of all the delegation (always searching for my relatives). It is great for all of us, young and old to know the history of relations between the nations — some of which are difficult to uncover. Thanks for bringing this back into the light!

    Giorgis

  3. 3 Tigist Aug 20th, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    What a nice article! Good job Liben!

  4. 4 Fesseha Oct 27th, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Thanks! it is empowering information.

  5. 5 Beyene Chassa Dec 13th, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Fantastic most proffessional work . Liben Eabisa the original respected Abyssinian man. Thankyou.

  6. 6 Teddy Feb 10th, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Very interesting story!!!!

  7. 7 Alex Feb 25th, 2008 at 2:06 am

    Wow! I never knew, what a story. good job sir!

  8. 8 Desalegne Mar 7th, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Great job. what else can I say? it is truly great.

  9. 9 Gabre Selase Apr 1st, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Egzia’bher Yimesgen

    Bitam yemtiwoded Ato Liben, the article presented here “First Ethiopian Delegation to the United States 1919″ was vary edifying. As a descendant of Ethiopian origin born in the West, these noble artifacts are vary important for us, to those of us who have the vivid desire to one day return home to our beloved Country ETHIOPIA.

    I’m not a monthly reader of Tadias Magazine, however, I do try to find the time and occasion to read and at time issue a comment such as this.

    What I would like to know more is, if you so have the time to obtain some more artifacts on His Excellency Dr. Malaku Emmanuel Bayen, Ethiopian Emissary to Black America 1936.The Historic facts on the Shashamanne Land Grant in Ethiopia and the genesis of its Administrators in collaboration with the Ethiopian World Federation, Incorporated.

    Again I was pleased to have the opportunity to read about this noble historical artifact and is humbly looking forward to view some more.

    All the best to you, your staffs and all viewers of Tadais Magazine.

    Selamta,

    Gabre Selase

  10. 10 Voiceout Jun 25th, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Ato Liben,

    Tanx for this info, i was happy to read this article. its educative and moral booster info. Great job! I just discovered this site and im sure im going to chek it out often from now on. Thank you.

  11. 11 yedroyezre Jun 25th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Great find, Good job! Ethiopians have always been respected around the world its sad to see us in the state that we are in at this current time. We must help our people to stand together and fight poverty.

  12. 12 Daniel Assefa Aug 7th, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Great job. The trip of this distinguished delegation was great. I wish you could also report more on the racist behavior they encountered and how they dealt with it. On their trip back to Ethiopia the US goverment had to send them a letter of apology before they reached Ethipopia. Overall great aricle.

  13. 13 Nebiyu Elias-Malcolm Dec 8th, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Dear Mr. Eabisa,

    Thank you for your historical look at the first Ethiopian delegation to visit the US. I found it interesting as an Ethiopian American. Keep up the good work.

  14. 14 tewbel tefferi Dec 10th, 2008 at 8:04 am

    We are thankful to Tadias Magazine for publishing such important documentation about the relations of the US and Ethiopia.

    The history of Ethiopia’s diplomatic endeavors dates from ancient times, we were not always isolated from the rest of the world.

    Tadias, please keep the good work, with very best wishes and for prosperous new year.

    Imru Zelleke

  15. 15 Dawit Amenu Dec 10th, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Thank you Ato Liben. What a moral story. That is the Ethiopia I know and admire.

    I hope you keep on digging for more uplifting history. Thanks again.

    Dawit

  16. 16 Alem Dec 10th, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Wonderful piece of history. Thank you for sharing.

  17. 17 Daniel Kebede Daniels MD Dec 11th, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    What an excellent recollection of history that most of us were oblivious of.
    Thank you.

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