Memorial Day Note: Tribute to African American contribution during the Italo-Ethiopian War

Above: Photo of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers in front of the African-American Civil War Memorial Statue in D.C. on May 5, 2011. (Courtesy Photo)

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Updated: Sunday, May 29, 2011

Washington (Tadias) – On Memorial Day Americans pay tribute to U.S. Service men and women who lost their lives in defense of the nation. Earlier this month a series of events were also held in Washington D.C. to remember African American contributions in defense of Ethiopia during the second Italo-Ethiopian War that lasted from 1935 to 1941. The event was organized by volunteers from the Ethiopian-American community, and included the laying of a flower wreath in front of the African American Civil War Memorial on Mother’s Day. “This was the day to express gratitude to thousands of African Americans who rallied on behalf of Ethiopia,” says Tamrat Medhin, the event’s chief organizer. “African Americans raised money to help the Ethiopian victims, they organized and committed to fight side by side with Ethiopians but were denied permission based on the existing discriminatory laws at the time.”

In 1935, despite being a member of the League of Nations, Italy disregarded international law and invaded Ethiopia. The attack exposed the weakness of the intergovernmental security organization. Both countries were member nations and yet the League was ineffective in protecting Ethiopia against the invasion. During the war scores of African Americans had attempted to enlist to fight in Ethiopia but were unable to legally succeed in that front because the United States was not officially in support of Ethiopia. But news of Ethiopia’s plight continued to fuel indignation and furious debates among the black community in the U.S. and several individuals traveled to the African country on ‘humanitarian’ grounds.

Author Gail Lumet Buckley cites two African American pilots, John Robinson and the ‘Black Eagle of Harlem’ Hubert Julian, who joined the Ethiopian Air Corps, then made up of only three non-combat planes. John Robinson, a member of the first group of black students that entered Curtis Wright Flight School, flew his plane delivering medical supplies to different towns across the country. In New York, Chicago, and various other cities African American churches urged their members to speak out against the invasion while others organized medical supply drives from New York’s Harlem Hospital. Most notably, an African American journalist named Joel Rogers traveled to Ethiopia as a war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, one of America’s most widely-circulated black newspaper at the time. Upon returning to the United States a year later, he published a pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia, a scathing and uncompromising report on the destruction caused by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Still other volunteers designed and passed out pins that read “Save Ethiopia.”

As people gather to honor heroes on Memorial Day it is fitting to also remember those individuals who went beyond the call of duty to help Ethiopia in its time of need.
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