Haile Selassie and African Americans

By 1932, the emperor has several foreigners working for him in Addis Ababa but few were African American. The emperor succeeded in acquiring the services of a few African Americans but his efforts were mostly failures as very few Africans Americans moved to Ethiopia (Harris 1-8) In 1931, the emperor granted land to African Americans near Lake Tana and less than a 100 settled there. The settlers were under funded and did not get much support from either the American or Ethiopian governments. By 1934, right before war broke out with Italy, nearly all had left and less than 5 remained (Harris 13-8).

In 1934, an Ethiopian medical student, Howard University professors and others created the Ethiopian Research Council in the United States. This group was created for the purpose providing aide to Ethiopia from afar. They advised the Ethiopian government on engineering projects, road building, fund raising and many other things. The group was created in Washington DC but it expanded to other cities as interest grew in the groups agenda. Its publications raised awareness of Ethiopia among many African Americans (Harris 19-28).

After war broke out between Ethiopia and Italy, many African Americans sympathized with Ethiopia. Many wanted to enlist in the Ethiopian army and others wanted to go to Ethiopia to be able to help out in any way they can. Skilled African Americans wanted to go to Ethiopia to help in construction and building factories (Harris 37-45). This was a major concern for the American government. They made it clear that they would not support any one volunteering in Ethiopia at wartime. The FBI investigated people who were thought to be involved in recruitment. (Harris 45-48). African American groups were however able to collect funds and send over medical supplies to Ethiopia. A group of African Americans also visited the emperor in England while he was in exile (Harris 108)

In 1941, Haile Selassie was back in Ethiopia and restored as emperor after the British had decided the help Ethiopia. Soon afterwards, United States played a major role in the reconstruction of Ethiopia. This included the recruitment of several African Americans. African Americans began arriving in Ethiopia in 1943 and worked in government, schools, media, as well as many other fields. African American trained some of the first pilots who would go on to work for Ethiopian Airlines (Harris 140-8).

The most prominent African Americans to appear in the Ethiopian scene during this period were Hubert Julian and John C. Robinson, both pilots. Hubert first came to Ethiopia in 1930 to participate in the emperor's coronation ceremony. However during rehearsal he crashed a plane. This lead to him being forced to leave the country. He returned back to Ethiopia in 1935 wanting to help fend of the Italians, who were preparing to attack. He was forbidden from flying planes but participated war efforts. He was once again forced to leave after getting into trouble. John C. Robinson first came to the Ethiopia in 1935 and stayed until just before the Italians were about to invade the capital city, Addis Ababa. He operated several of Ethiopia's planes during the war and even got shot at by an Italian plane and was injured. He returned back to Ethiopia in 1944 and in 1954 died in a plane crash in Addis Ababa (Shaftel. 'The Black Eagle of Harlem').


Harris, Joseph E. African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia, 1936-1941. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1994.

Shaftel, David. (2008, December). The Black Eagle of Harlem: The truth behind the tall tales of Hubert Fauntleroy Julian. Air & Space Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/the-black-eagle-of-harlem-95208344/?all&no-ist