Una Brown to Marcus Garvey
[[200 West 113 Street, New York City,
August 31st, 1936]]
Hon. Marcus Garvey. Sir,
I read your article in the August issue of the "Black Man" entitled "The Italian Conquest," also your unjust criticism of Emperor Haile Selassie.
We in America do not believe those are your sentiments. Sir, you know Abyssinia was hemmed in by colonies dominated by whites. When Mussolini declared his intention of subduing Ethiopia he made it clear that his specific reason was to suppress the arms traffic for the benefit of Europe. That statement met with the approval of all Europe. What excuse could the Emperor give for setting up a munitions factory?
Mussolini also stated there were eleven coloured to every one white person in the world and if the whites were to continue to dominate they must control the world. You speak about slavery in Abyssinia as though it was the kind of slavery we were put in by the Europeans. King Menelik's mother was a slave.1 That's the facility Abyssinian slavery may have. Here we are free in the Western Hernisphere yet we are segregated even in the churches where all must humble themselves before God.
The Emperor is a descendant of Solomon.2 Why should he renounce his right to his heritage on either side? Solomon was a Jew, "black but comely."3 The original Jews were a black race, history tells us.4 Solomon and the Queen of Sheba give him a background rivalled by no other monarch in the world.
I feel like a lot of others that you have been quite unfair in your writing. The Emperor's wife is an Ethiopian.5 Why do you blame him for the wives his diplomats marry? Moses' wife was an African woman,6 not of Jewish stock, and he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea. Solomon fell in love with the Queen of Sheba who was not of his race, but whose country supplied the gold for the building of the temple which God desired. Napoleon's wife was a coloured woman from the West Indies7 and France was the greatest country in Europe during Napoleon's reign, but the French did not exile him for marrying a coloured woman.
Speaking about the help we rendered Ethiopia, it was very little; and from all appearances there was an undercurrent of "dirt" somewhere. But Ethiopia shall be redeemed and her rightful heir shall sit on her throne. Sir, we have always looked upon you as a great leader, but those statements about the Emperor have given us cause to wonder if you are your original self.
About your letter to the Ethiopian Government, returned unopened, that was proof enough the letter was not delivered, and if it was the Emperor could not have read it through an unbroken seal. You extol the idea of the Negroes standing behind the British Government. Yes, so they can sell out like they did Abyssinia. "Yes, my Lord." We hated DuBois for antagonizing you; and you who have done so much for the race, surprise the entire race for saying the Emperor has outlived his usefulness and should seek asylum in a monastery. For your own prestige and the high esteem which the race holds for you, it would mean a lot if you would retract those statements and resume the place of honour and confidence which our hearts hold for you.
With deepest regret from one who knows what the Negroes in America are saying; one who would like to see you reach the heights as an ardent supporter of your principles, I beg to call your attention to this great mistake and trust you will rectify same for the benefit of an awakening race and the honour due you in history. I remain, Yours truly,
Printed in BM 2, no. 3 (September-October 1936): 15. Original headlines omitted.
King Menelik II (1844-1913) was born Sahle Maryam, grandson of King Sahle Selassie, (Shoan
ruler from 1814 to 1847) and Bezzabbesh (daughter of the ruler of Marhabete). His
father, Haile Malakot, was born in 1825 and was king from 1847 until his death in
1855. Oral tradition varies on the origins and social status of his mother,
Ijjigayyehu, with some claiming she was well born and more numerous sources reporting that
she was a slave, a servant of Bezzabbesh, who watched over the girl's pregnancy and
married her to her son, Haile Malakot, after she produced a male heir. According to
this tradition it was Bezzabbesh who gave the infant Sahle Maryam the name Menelik,
"thus prophesying for the boy a glorious reign during which he would reconstitute the
Ethiopian empire, originally constructed by the legendary Menelik I, the son of Solomon
and Sheba" (Harold G. Marcus, The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844-1913
[Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975], pp. 16-17).
Menelik II reigned as King of Shewa from 1865 to 1889 and as emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to 1913. Under his rule Addis Ababa was established as the Ethiopian capitol and limited modernization programs were begun. In events that foreshadowed the conflicts of 1935, Italian troops invaded Ethiopia in 1895. Menelik II's forces successfully staved off the invasion at the Battle of Adowa. The confrontation ended in 1896 with the Italian withdrawal of claims to Ethiopia as a protectorate and the tacit recognition of Ethiopian independence (Pittsburgh Courier, 8 February 1936; Gebré Sellassié, Chronique du Règne de Menelik II, Roi des Rois d'Ethiopie [Paris, 1930]); Richard Greenfield, Ethiopia: A New Political History [London: Pall Mall Press, 1965]; Richard Pankhurst, History of Ethiopia [Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education and Fine Arts, 1970], pp. 111-114).
2. Sheba, the Queen of Ethiopia, visited Solomon, the son of David, King of Judah, in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 9; 1 Kings 10). According to Ethiopian legend she converted to Judaism and bore Solomon a son, Menelik I, thus beginning the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia (Wolf Leslau, Falasha Anthology: The Black Jews of Ethiopia [New York: Schocken, 1969]; Peter Schwab, Haile Selassie I: Ethiopia's Lion of Judah [Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979], pp. 11-15).
3. A reference to Song of Solomon 1: 5, "I am black, but comely, 0 ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon."
The population of Ethiopia consists of two main ethnographic or linguistic groups, the
Cushitic (including the Agaw, the Sidama, the Afar, Oromo, Saho and Somalis, and the
Falasha, also known as the Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews) and the Semitic (the Amharic,
Tigrinya, Hararge, and Gurage) peoples. Oniotic and Nilo-Saharan groups are also
represented. Historically, the Semitic peoples have been politically and
economically dominant, using Amharic as the official state language, and adhering to the
teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic Christian) Church, a powerful political force
in its own right. Some 35 percent of the Ethiopian population are Coptic
Christians, with an approximately equal number of Muslims in the east, and a smaller
percentage of Falasha Jews residing mainly in the area of Gondar (Leslau, Falasha
Anthology; Schwab, Haile Selassie I).
Many African-American Jews, including Rabbi Wentworth Matthew and Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford, objected to being referred to as Negroes and believed that they were the descendants of the true Israelites through the line of Solomon (Howard Brotz, The Black Jews of Harlem [London: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964]); Shaleak Bcn Yehuca, Black Hebrew Israelites from America to a Promised Land [New York: Vantage Press, 1975]; Israel J. Gerber, The Heritage Seekers: American Blacks in Search of Jewish Identity [Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1977]).
5. Ras Tafari Makonnen married Woizero Menen in 1911. Menen was an Oromo from Welo province and a deeply religious Coptic Christian. The marriage between Ras Tafari and Menen was arranged by Lij Iyasu, Menen's uncle and the grandson of Menelik II, in an unsuccessful effort to diffuse Ras Tafari's opposition to his succession to the throne. The politically induced marriage lasted until Menen's death in 1962 and produced three sons and three daughters (Schwab, Haile Selassie I: pp. 34, 39; see also Haile Selassie's eulogy to Menen in Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, 1918-1967 [Addis Ababa: Ministry of Information, 1967], p. 650).
6. The vindicationist or revisionist school of black religious thinkers has identified Moses along with Abraham, Joseph, Judah, Samson, and others - as among those who married or had children with black women and as descendants of Ham, ancestor of the Canaanites, Egyptians, and Ethiopians (W. L Hunter, Jesus Christ Had Negro Blood in His Veins [1901; reprint ed., Brooklyn, 1910]; Alonzo Potter Burgess Holly, God and the Negro: Synopsis of God and the Negro; or, The Biblical Record of the Race of Ham [Nashville: National Baptist Publishing Board, 1937]).
Marie Joseph Rose ("Josephine") de la Pagerie (1763-1814) was born at
Trois Ilets, Martinique, the daughter of elite slave-holding French Creole parents.
She married Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796. The emperor divorced her in 1809 after she
failed to produce an heir to the throne (Baron de Meneval, The Empress Josephine [London:
Sampson, Low, Marston & Co., 1923]; Hubert Cole, Josephine [New York: Viking
According to Amy Ashwood Garvey, Garvey strongly identified with Napoleon and often called her "my Josephine!" during their courtship (Amy Ashwood Garvey, "Portrait of a Liberator," [New York, unpub. ms.] ch. 4, pp. 54, 55, 65, 76; ch. 7, p. 2; ch. 11, pp. 22-23, 2; AAG).
Marcus Garvey to Una Brown
[[2, Beaumont Crescent, West Kensington,
London, W. 14, England
September 15th, 1936]]
I have before me your very interesting letter written from New York, under date of August 31st, and which reached my office here during my absence in Canada. I have observed your displeasure over the article entitled "Italian Conquest?" which appeared in the July-August Issue of the "Black Man." You are peeved because the Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, has been criticised for the purpose of clarifying the complicated situation of the Italo-Abyssinian war and temporary defeat of Abyssinia.
It is for me to inform you that whilst I appreciate your enthusiasm[,] I cannot in the same manner compliment your intelligence, because there is no man on earth above criticism. The Emperor of Abyssinia was not only Emperor in himself, but he held a trust as Emperor of the only surviving Negro Empire in Africa, and by his behaviour he has betrayed that trust consciously or unconsciously. Some Negroes, therefore, cannot compliment him as you want us to do, for the betrayal of that trust, but naturally must seek a way to explain the situation so that the entire world may not think that we are all entirely void not only of racial pride but of character.
You refer to "we in America." I do not know whom you mean by "we." I think the "we" means yourself, because knowing the race as I do, I think that when they have the facts before them they do not act so silly as to let other people laugh at them. From the nature of your letter it doesn't appear that you are a Negro at all, because if you were you could not be so ruthless in encouraging the male members of your race to go throughout the world intermarrying with other races, to the disadvantage of their own. You seem to take great pride in intermarriage with the opposite races. As far as this is concerned, that alienates you from all racial respect as far as I am concerned. I respect and love my race and I feel that the majority of Negroes in America do the same, so that when you write of "we in America" I surely believe you are only referring to your own feeling and not to that of any appreciable number of sensible Negroes who have read the article to which you refer.
You refer to Mussolini's intention of subduing Ethiopia. Mussolini had no more right to the intention than the Emperor of Abyssinia had to the proper intention of defending his country. You seem to put Mussolini on a pedestal like a god and reduce the Emperor to an imbecile who is bound by every caprice of Mussolini's, to the extent of not preparing himself and his country against the vile Italian onslaught. That Mussolini stated there were eleven coloured persons to every white one in the world, was no reason why Haile Selassie should keep his country unprepared, but very good argument why he should have been ready to strike a blow in defence of national integrity. I cannot understand you at all when you try to condone slavery among Negroes. If you like the kind of slavery that the Abyssinians have been kept in by their Government, why didn't you go there and live under it. Probably you would have been an Empress later on. Your remarks are very simple and show that you are not competent to discuss a matter as important as that which was taken up under the title "Italian Conquest" in the last issue of "The Black Man." If you think that any blood relationship between the Emperor of Abyssinia and Solomon will help him to settle important international questions of today, you may be considered an idle dreamer. People do not care anything about Solomon to-day. They are very much interested in conditions as they are; and as suggested, if the Emperor had paid more attention to modern diplomacy and scientific politics, rather than flattering himself over the idea of his being descended from Solomon, making him superior to the other Abyssinians, because they are black, he would have been still Emperor and we would have been proud of him as our representative.
All the coloured women to whom you refer, from Sheba to Josephine of France[,] have all given away something. Sheba gave away her gold, Josephine gave away her loyalty and devotion and was left in the cold, Moses lost the respect of his sister and brother because he married a black woman, and God himself had to intervene to save Moses from their wrath, the provocation of which with other things prevented Moses from seeing the Promised Land.
You suggest that the Emperor should not be blamed for appointing diplomats to represent Abyssinia who are married to white women, and particularly Italians. If this is the state of your mind as a critic of international matters, than it is plain to be seen that you are only dabbling in something with which you are not competent to express a sensible opinion. It is the very fact that his diplomats had dual affiliations why he was so double-crossed, and even as far as Italy was concerned knew nothing about the preparations Italy was making for fifteen years to attack him, even though he had an ambass[ad]or resident in Rome - but the Ambassador [Negrus Yesus Afework] was married to an Italian woman.1
You are quite welcome to withdraw from me any good opinion you had of me, if that opinion was based only on your desire for me to play the fool in handling important questions vital to the interest of our race. You expect me to condemn the British Government unnecessarily, just for the vanity of doing so or the madness thereof. There are times when not only the British Government should be criticised in their treatment toward Negroes but any other Government, but when the British Government or any Government is acting in a manner to be complimented in any particular, it is only a fool who would consistently condemn such a Government, and that is what apparently you want me to do. As leader of an important Negro movement I am not inclined to be always making enemies among Governments for my race rather than friends. If you want to do that, you are quite privileged to do so, but you will not inveigle me into such a practice simply to get your approval. My suggestion of the Emperor going to a Monastery is in keeping with his religious professions. As a fact, he has very little of politics in him but much of religion. When he should be fighting he was always praying even though his Government held slaves. His prayers were not answered because he held slaves, quite inconsistent with the manner of approach to receive God's true blessing. When men fail in major matters they either take a rest or they are pushed aside by others who are better able to succeed. When through the disloyalty of my associates I failed to carry out all the aims and objects of the Organisation that I was leading I had to retire for quite a long time to allow others to do better than I could. It was only after finding their inability to do that much better that I was universally requested to assume aggressive leadership once more in the said movement. So that I was not unmindful of the responsibilities and duties of leaders when they failed, when I suggested to the Emperor that he retire to a Monastery, but at the same time pray for the safe-conduct of his country.
You asked me to retract the things I wrote in the article for my own prestige and the high esteem in which I was held by you and others. I am sorry I cannot oblige you. As a leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association I have a duty to perform, not only to the members of the Organization but to the race, and it is for me to explain to them why Abyssinia failed in the war with Italy, for the time being. It was purely through the bad diplomacy of Haile Selassie who surrounded himself with white advisers and who himself pretended to be white and who continued such a policy even up to his arrival in ENGLAND, where he made it a feature to entertain white people particularly white ladies, and whose conduct exposed him to the severest of criticism as far as loyalty to his own race is concerned.
Again it is stated that there is no desire to be unfair or unkind to the Emperor but there is a desire to give correct information to the race so that its members may know how to act in the matter. I have the honour to be, Your obedient servant,
Universal Negro Improvement Association
[Address:] Miss Una Brown,
200, W. 113th Street,
New York City, N.Y.
Printed in BM 2, no. 3 (September-October 1936): 15-16. Original headlines omitted.
Negrus Yesus Afework, also known as Afework Gebre Iyesus (1868-1947), was the
Ethiopian chargé d'affaires in Rome from 1931 to 1935. Afework was born into an
upper-class family and educated at the Academia Albertina di Belle Arti and the Collegio
Internazionale in Turin, Italy. In 1902 he became an assistant to Francesco Gallina,
an Italian who chaired the Amharic Studies Department at the Oriental Institute in Naples.
He married an Italian, Eugenia Rossi, in 1904. He was the author of a
handbook of Italian-Amharic conversation and numerous pro-Italian articles, as well as
other literary and scholarly works. His Lebb wallad tarik (Story Born Out of
Fantasy [Rome, 1908]) has been called "the first modern Amharic novel" (L.
H. Ofosu-Appiah, ed., Dictionary of African Biography [New York: Reference
Publications, 1977], p. 44).
Afework held a number of diplomatic posts before becoming minister to Italy in 1931. He was recalled to Addis Ababa when Count Vinci, the Italian minister to Ethiopia, was expelled from the Ethiopian capitol in October 1935. He became chief of the Ethiopian court system during the Italian occupation (1936-194l) and was exiled to Jimma, in southwest Ethiopia, when Haile Selassie I returned to power. He died in exile six years later (Times [London], 10 October, 11 October, 15 October, 24 October, 29 October, 1 November, and 14 November 1935).
The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert A. Hill (University of California Press 1983), vol. 7, pp. 698-703.