Article by Marcus Garvey
in the Norfolk Journal and Guide
HAILE SELASSIE IS BAD HISTORIAN
AND WORSE PSYCHOLOGIST,
OPINES FAM[OU]S U.N.I.A. LEADER
The American Negro is the
most loyal, self-conscious, and expressive member of the racial group. He is never
wanting in his response to racial appeals that stir him to the possibility of real service
- religiously, politically, and otherwise.
He has never failed those who appeal to him. Most of the time, however, he allows his enthusiasm for racial causes to get the better of his judgment, and then, when the truth is brought home to him, he becomes disappointed and disgusted.
Efforts should be made not to spoil his good disposition and character in this respect, for he it is who is leading the world of other Negroes in the race in the hope of solving a problem that calls for their true responsibility to the most serious application.
THE WAR, FOR INSTANCE
The Italo-Abyssinian War had
an immediate appeal to the American Negro, like Negroes in all other parts of the world,
and his response was immediate and most enthusiastic.
Unfortunately when Ethiopia entered upon the War and before, there was no organized intelligence about its true position among Negroes anywhere. It was difficult, therefore, for Abyssinia to get the right kind of support that was absolutely necessary at the very start of things.
The lack of information among Negroes of the world about Abyssinia was due to the fault of the Abyssinian government which up to that time took no diplomatic pains of creating contact with the Negro peoples of the world and particularly those of America so as to create among them an interest that was most necessary and vital for a successful resistance of an Italian or European offensive.
ATTITUDE TOWARD WAR
From our knowledge and
experience, we are able to say that the Abyssinian government headed by Emperor Haile
Selassie felt that its existence was possible without any catering to and contact with
In fact, they held themselves to be a separate and distinct race from the Negro race, and the entire administrative policy was to treat the blacks as an inferior people in whom they were not politically interested, except for their enslavement and exploitation.
The Amharic Rulers felt that they had descended from a superior race and even in Abyssinia the darker races of the country were regarded as inferiors only fit to be feudal serfs and in many instances overburdened slaves.
Unfortunately the Emperor's
government was not an enlightened one, in the sense that it could not understand and
appreciate European diplomacy and the methods of European statesmen in preserving the
political independence of their respective countries and in catering to their respective
The Abyssinian policy was based on the absolute elevation of the ruling classes and the positive lack of national interest in the native masses. This is contrary to the policy of enlightened and civilized governments where the rulers - whether they be kings, emperors, dictators, or presidents - hold office only as executive trustees for the people whom they must serve, the wishes of the said people being supreme will and law.
With them, the people dictate the policies of government and demand service from government in their interest. With Abyssinia, it was the Emperor who dictated the policy of the government and he used the government, people, and country for his own divine and personal purposes.
Naturally, such a condition
in Abyssinia would make it rather difficult for the government to rally the real patriotic
support of the people in a crisis such as was brought about by Mussolini.
Mussolini[,] being an astute diplomat and expert statesman, pandered to the weakness of the Abyssinian oppressed and neglected masses. While the Emperor failed to feed them, to equip them, and to properly train and educate them, Mussolini stepped in after his invasion and supplied their necessary human needs, particularly in feeding and caring for them.
The result was a stampede of the Abyssinians from the Emperor to the invader. This, more than anything else, assisted Mussolini to conquer the country.1
As bad an historian and
psychologist as Haile Selassie was, he overlooked the necessary human elements - human
aspirations which were common to people of all races. He, instead of providing for
the Abyssinian masses as stated, only provided for himself; hence, when the fight reached
its crucial point, he had no one to stand alongside of him and so he had to flee, leaving
the people to the mercy of Mussolini and the Italian hordes.
Much news has been published after Mussolini's conquest of Abyssinia, about the Abyssinians still fighting successfully against the Italians. This must be taken with a grain of salt.
There is really no organized opposition to Italy in Abyssinia. The incompetent rulers who opened Abyssinia to invasion are still making the effort to hold on to Abyssinia, hence a lot of misrepresentative statements which seem to be affecting the American public.
Every Negro desires the
freedom of Abyssinia, but that freedom is now suspended, in that Italy is fully
established in the country. There is no well recognized government in the country
among the Abyssinians. The few men who have been holding out, have been doing so on
their own account, but not because they have been supported by the exiled Emperor or his
Any appeal therefore, to the American public on behalf of Haile Selassie's government, suggesting that the war is still going on for the re-conquest of the country, should not be accepted as a truth, but should be explained so that the American public might use proper judgment in the matter.
SELASSIE VS. MASSES
Haile Selassie[,] until his
defeat and exile, only considered Negroes as being of no consequence, but his view point
must not be considered as the view point of the Abyssinian masses who are as unfortunate
as the oppressed Negroes everywhere.
The American Negro should, through his own agency, establish contact with the Abyssinian Negroes for better understanding, that they may work for the redemption of Africa.
An independent course should be taken and no one should allow himself to be deceived into believing that much more can be accomplished through Haile Selassie himself.
His exile from the country
will be as permanent as Mussolini decides. The hope of Abyssinia, therefore, rests
with other forces than Haile Selassie. Primarily, it rests with the loyal
Abyssinians who remained in Abyssinia and who must work out a diplomatic scheme of
surprising the Italians.
This may come though civil war, when they are ready, or through Italy becoming involved in a European war to render her incapable of protecting her interest in Abyssinia.
To accomplish any good this way, the Abyssimans and their Negro friends must work quietly and diplomatically and not in the way the Emperor and his agents have been working by making statements which are unfounded and which tend to expose the Abyssinian natives to the retaliation and revenge of the ever watchful Italian forces which are gathering information internationally on the Abyssinian situation.
NO GOVERNMENT IN GORE
When the Emperor went to
Geneva and stated that he had a government in Gore which he knew he hadn't at the time, he
was only focusing Italian military activities against the few remaining patriots at Gore,
who were endeavoring to hold on.2
If left alone without any interference from the Emperor, they might have been able to strike a bargain with the League of Nations, the British and French governments or with Italy herself to remain independent in the western section of Abyssinia.
The Emperor knows nothing about history and European diplomacy, and he seems to be interested in no one else but himself and his family. Everything is lost to the Abyssinians - the poor Abyssinians who remained at home whilst everything has been taken by the Emperor who sought immediate and voluntary exile, when the situation became too warm for him to remain on the spot.
MUST BE CAREFUL
The American Negro should be
careful how he continues to support a lost cause. He is advised not to give away his
money foolishly to something that will never be realized, but if he has to support the
cause of Abyssinia or the cause of any Negro government, he should first have a proper
understanding and agreement with that government to share in the benefits to accrue from
the assistance given.3
This is the only business way to help. This is the way for peoples and governments to act. The Negroes should be no different. A government cannot be built up on sympathy and charity, but on a sound business basis.
Any assistance, therefore, to Negro governments should be given only when there is a proper understanding to result in those offering assistance being considered as being entitled to certain rights which they would not be able to demand without a proper understanding before their assistance was given.
Printed in the Norfolk Journal and Guide, 23 January 1937. Original headlines abridged.
In the months leading up to the war, Mussolini tried to undermine Haile Selassie's
influence over the provinces by infiltrating and bribing Ethiopians loyal to local
chieftains. This method was particularly successful among the Azebu Gallas.
Haile Selassie himself acknowledged that many of his rases were on the Italian payroll but
described the transactions as "bribery without corruption" since they would
"pocket Italian money and remain steadfast to Ethiopia" (Thomas M. Coffey, Lion
by the Tail: The Story of the Italian-Ethiopian War [New York: Viking Press, 1974], p.
173; see also pp. 39, 177). One of Ethiopia's more famous defectors was Dejasmatch
Haile Selassie Gugsa, Haile Selassie's former son-in-law, who made overtures to General De
Bono early in the war, bringing some twelve-hundred men and five vintage rifles with him.
De Bono appointed him to a powerless position as a civilian chief of Tigre (Coffey,
Lion by the Tail, pp. 179-186).
In the 1935 poem "The Brutal Crime," Garvey had voiced a different view from the one stated in this document on the issue of the disloyalty of some Ethiopians. The poem included the following stanzas: "When Mussolini challenged us, / He knew the weakness of the men; / To feed and pat them on the back / Was all, to get them in the pen. / The cursed fool who fell for Rome, / And marched against the Motherland, / Should never live to tell the tale / Of his unholy traitorband . . .," (BM 1, no. 11 [December 1935]: 4).
2. When Haile Selassie returned to Addis Ababa on 30 April 1936, he summoned his remaining elders to a meeting wherein he supported a plan to transfer both himself and his government to the town of Gore (a settlement in the mountains near the Sudanese border, two hundred miles west of Addis Ababa in the province of Ilubabor). Discouraged by British, French, and U.S. officials, opposed by his family, and supported by only three of his own councilors, the emperor was forced to abandon his plan to continue the resistance and moved himself and government records outside of the country, instead of to Gore. The mountainous region surrounding Gore did remain, however, a stronghold for patriot cadres, including resistance fighters led by Ras Imru (David A. Talbot, Haile Selassie I: Silver Jubilee [The Hague: W. P. Van Stockum and Zoon, 1955], pp. 43-44; Coffey, Lion by the Tail, p. 333). For Garvey's view of the internal resistance in Ethiopia, see his editorial comments in "The Patriots of Abyssinia" (BM 2, no. 2 [July-August 1936]: 20) and "Fighting for Abyssinia - The Emperor Runs" (BM 2, no. 5 [January 19371: 1-2). See also his two patriotic poems, "Ras Nasibu of Ogadon" (BM 2, no. 5 [January 1937]: 11) and "Ras Desta" (BM 2, no. 6 [March-April 1937]: 7).
Garvey's concern over the disposition of the money collected for Ethiopia had some
substance. Despite local efforts, American neutrality legislation made direct
recruitment of soldiers and shipment of arms difficult; there is also little evidence that
a significant amount of the money solicited for Ethiopian support ever reached its source.
For example, the Friends of Ethiopia, a leading national association organized for
Ethiopian aid, failed actually to deliver assistance, and a New York newspaper headline of
1935 proclaimed Ethiopian relief "A Juicy Racket" in Harlem (New York Herald
Tribune, 2 August 1935).
Garvey's skepticism about Ethiopia as a lost cause, however, was not shared by most of his American followers. After the fall of Addis Ababa to the Italians and Haile Selassie's escape into exile, UNIA members in the United Sates continued to work for the relief movement, even though white supporters largely lost interest. In the months following the fall of the Ethiopian capital the relief effort thus took on an increasingly black nationalist cast. For example, United Aid for Ethiopia, a Harlem-based organization in which white progressives participated, disbanded in 1937 and was replaced by the Ethiopian World Federation, made up largely of blacks who saw their organization as a "pro-Ethiopia movement of mass proportions with a black nationalist base" (William Randolph Scott, "A Study of Afro-American and Ethiopian Relations, 1896-1941" [Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1971], p 183).
The fact that the Ethiopian cause became increasingly attractive to black nationalists rather than waning with the turn of events in the African nation left Garvey politically isolated. As Claude McKay noted, the Ethiopian World Federation drew its supporters "from the same common people that gave power to the Garvey movement"; as a result, "Garvey's denunciation did not swing his swing his people" (Harlem: Negro Metropolis [New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1940] pp. 175-176. Considerable evidence suggests that McKay's assessment was accurate (New York Post, 15 July 1935; New York Herald Tribune 29 August 1935; Pittsburgh Courier, 13 February 1937; Scott "A Study of Afro-American and Ethiopian Relations," pp. 152-329). For an earlier instance of Garvey's skepticism, see his editorial commentary "Collecting Money for Abyssinia" (BM, 1 no.11 [December 1935]: 11).
The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert A. Hill (University of California Press 1983), vol. 7, pp. 718-722.