Editorial by Marcus Garvey
in the Black Man

[London, March/April 1937]


        When the facts of history are written Haile Selassie of Abyssinia will go down as a great coward who ran away from his country to save his skin and left the millions of his countrymen to struggle through a terrible war that he brought upon them because of his political ignorance and his racial disloyalty.
        It is a pity that a man of the limited intellectual calibre and weak political character like Haile Selassie became Emperor of Abyssinia at so crucial a time in the political history of the world.  Unfortunately, Abyssinia lost the controlling influence of a political personality of patriotic racial character like the late Menelik, whose loyalty to his race and devotion to his country excelled all his other qualities, to the extent that he was able to use that very strength to continuously safeguard the interests of the Ethiopian Empire.  What he did so well to preserve, a cringing, white slave hero worshipper, visionless and disloyal to his country, threw away.  This is the impression the serious minded political student forms of the conduct of the ex-Emperor of Abyssinia.


        Every Negro who is proud of his race must be ashamed of the way in which Haile Selassie surrendered himself to the white wolves of Europe.  These statements may be considered very severe, and in fact, they are.  We could have been otherwise apologetic and sympathetic, but that would have been only if we were dealing with a Coptic Priest or a Religious Monk and not a[n] Emperor who held and presided over the political trust of twelve million people of his own country, and the political destiny of the entire Negro race.  This little misguided Emperor could not realise that he held in his hands the political trust of the hundreds of millions of Negroes of the world, men and women, who were looking up toward the firm establishment of political sovereignty, and that Ethiopia, like Liberia and Haiti were to them prizes of glory to be perpetuated and strengthened in the maintenance of the dignity of that black race that other men have claimed to be incompetent, inferior and unworthy, which every black man must disprove.


        When the war started in Abyssinia all Negro nationalists looked with hope to Haile Selassie.  They spoke for him, they prayed for him, they sung for him, they did everything to hold up his hands, as Aaron did for Moses; but whilst the Negro peoples of the world were praying for the success of Abyssinia this little Emperor was undermining the fabric of his own kingdom by playing the fool with white men, having them advising him[,] having them telling him what to do, how to surrender, how to call off the successful thrusts of his Rases against the Italian invaders.  Yes, they were telling him how to prepare his flight, and like an imbecilic child he followed every advice and then ultimately ran away from his country to England, leaving his people to be massacred by the Italians, and leaving the serious white world to laugh at every Negro and repeat the charge and snare - "he is incompetent," "we told you so."  Indeed Haile Selassie has proved the incompetence of the Negro for political authority, but thank God there are Negroes who realise that Haile Selassie did not represent the truest qualities of the Negro race.   How could he, when he wanted to play white? how could he, when he surrounded himself with white influence? how could he, when in a modern world, and in a progressive civilization, he preferred a slave State of black men than a free democratic country where the black citizens could rise to the same opportunities as white citizens in their democracies?


        The truth must be told so that the white world will realise that it was not the pride of the Negro that surrendered in Abyssinia.  It was the disloyalty of a single man who was too silly to take pride in his race, who played such a game as to disgrace the political integrity of a noble people.  The Negroes of Abyssinia and of the world are satisfied however that Abyssinia was not conquered by Italy and the European forces of Mussolini.  Abyssinia was only conquered by the black levies of Italy.  The Askaris have really been the victors in Abyssinia.  [Rodolfo] Graziani only marched into Addis Ababa after he had made sure of the advanced guard of the Askaris.  Every battle that the Italians won in Abyssinia resulted from the advanced charge of the Askaris.  It was black men fighting black men, and this was made possible in Abyssinia because the regime of Haile Selassie had given a bad taste to the mouth, not only of the blacks of Abyssinia but of those of the surrounding territories.  They felt that they had a cause against the Amharic white loving Emperor who liked to chain and flog black men, and whose brutality to them gave Mussolini the cause to fool the world that he was bestowing a blessing upon the people of Abyssinia by freeing them.


        It was a piece of impertinence to suggest that black men should be held as slaves.  We must admit that we glorified Haile Selassie when the war started, fought his battles to win international support, but we ever felt deep down in our hearts that he was a slave master.  We had hoped that if Abyssinia had won that we would have forced the Government of Abyssinia to free the black whom they held as slaves.  We would have preferred this than seeing the country taken by Mussolini or any European power; but now that the country is temporarily lost and the Emperor has cowardly exiled himself, the truth must be told.


        The future freedom of Abyssinia must be built upon the highest principles of democracy.  That is why it is preferable for the Abyssinian Negroes and the Negroes of the world to work for the restoration and freedom of the country without the assistance of Haile Selassie, because at best he is but a slave master.  The Negroes of the Western World whose forefathers suffered for three hundred years under the terrors of slavery ought to be able to appreciate what freedom means.  Surely they cannot feel justified in supporting any system that would hold their brothers in slavery in another country whilst they are enjoying the benefits of freedom elsewhere.  The Africans who are free can also appreciate the position of slaves in Abyssinia.  What right has the Emperor to keep slaves when all the democratic sections of the world were free, when men had the right to live, to develop, to expand, to enjoy all the benefits of human liberty[?]
        The Emperor who has been exiled in Europe must have seen the civilization of Europe.  In England where he lives he sees that men are not flogged and chained and kicked because of their colour or because of their condition, but where true human liberty guarantees to every man the happiest pursuit he can bring to himself.  It has been reported that he is leaving England for Syria, where a large number of Abyssinian refugees are living.  There is an interpretation that the decision to leave England and to live among "his people?" in Syria is to perpetuate his divine majesty in the presence of that king worship that he doesn't get in England, where men look at others as equals and not as masters by divine right.  In truth, the Emperor is out of place in democratic England.  He wants to be once more in the environment of the feudal Monarch who looks down upon his slaves and serfs with contempt.  Except he changes the attitude of thinking himself better than the Negro who constitutes the larger number of Ethiopia and profit by the experience he has gained, he should not be a fit person to be in authority in the very country in which he was born.   After all, Haile Selassie is just an ordinary man like any other human being.   What right has he to hold men as slaves?  It is only the misfortune of the slaves that causes him to be a slave master.  Negroes who have the dignity of their race at heart resent the impertinence of anyone holding the blacks as slaves.  Haile Selassie ought to realise this and abolish his foolish dream of being an Emperor of slaves and serfs and try to be an Emperor of noble men, and for him to be that he must himself be the noblest of them all.  He hasn't proved his nobility in the war between Italy and Abyssinia.  Ras Desta1 proved to be the Lord, the Nobleman of Ethiopia whilst Halle Selassie proved a cringing coward!2

Printed in BM 2, no. 6 (March-April 1937): 8-9.

        1.   Ras Desta (1892-1937), a Shoan noble who favored Haile Selassie's policy of modernization, was married to the emperor's daughter, Tenagne Werq Haile Selassie.   He instituted public works projects in the provinces of Borana and Sidamo in the 1920s.  Haile Selassie made him commander-in-chief of southern Ethiopian forces with the onslaught of the Italian invasion in 1935.  Marshal Rodolfo Graziani destroyed his exhausted and malaria-ridden army in the Battle of Ganale Doria, near the southeastern Ethiopian border, in January 1936.  The Italians identified the whereabouts of the starving Ethiopian forces with aerial reconnaissance, then used some seventeen hundred kilograms of mustard gas against them.  Thousands died in the battle.  Others were driven into the desert, where they succumbed to hunger and dehydration.  Ras Desta and his servants escaped.  He emerged later as a leader of the guerilla resistance.  After Haile Selassie's exile, he maintained a guerilla force with Dejazmatch Gabre Mariam in the Great Lake District.  He was captured and put to death by the Italians in 1937, his severed head displayed to the population of Jimma province as a warning against opposition.  Shortly after, an assassination attempt was made against Viceroy Graziani.  The Italians attributed it to the followers of Ras Desta and, in the few days following the attempt, massacred thousands of inhabitants of Addis Ababa in reprisal (A. J. Barker, The Civilizing Mission: The Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1936 [London: Cassell, 1968], pp. 244, 282-283; Thomas M. Coffey, Lion by the Tail: The Story of the Italian-Ethiopian War [New York: Viking Press, 1974], pp. 272-274; Chris Prouty and Eugene Rosenfeld, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia [Metuchen, N.J., and London: Scarecrow Press, 1981], p. 49).

        2.   George Padmore debated Garvey on 30 May 1937.  According to Ralph Bunche's account of the debate:

Marcus boasted that he was for Mussolini; called [Haile] Selassie a coward, dumb and a trickster; Padmore had to protect him from the white proletarian audience when Garvey attacked them as riff-raff pointing out that the great Empire would be lost if it weren't for the "great men" at the head [o]f the govt.  [Stanley] Baldwin, et al, attacked Selassie for having white advisors.   (diary entry of Ralph Bunche, courtesy of Robert Edgar, Howard University, Washington, D.C.)

See also PT, 4 September 1937.

The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert A. Hill (University of California Press 1983), vol. 7, pp. 739-742.

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