In response to Jonathan O’Connell’s article “Street Fighter” (11/5): It is amazing how little Ethiopians and African-Americans know about each other. Many African-American churches in D.C. have the name “Ethiopia” because of their identification with Ethiopia in the Bible. During the Italian occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941, African-Americans joined organizations and raised money for Ethiopia.
Professor William Leo Hansberry, of the African Studies Department of Howard University, created the renowned Ethiopian Research Council with Dr. Melaku Bayen, the first Ethiopian medical graduate of Howard. Howard University would eventually graduate more Ethiopians than any other educational institution in the United States.
D.C. native and jazz musician extraordinaire Duke Ellington went to Ethiopia and wrote and performed a song for Emperor Haile Selassie, “Menelik, Lion of Judah.” The great African-American poet and D.C. resident Paul Laurence Dunbar, in “Ode to Ethiopia,” encouraged African-Americans to look to Ethiopia for pride.
Ethiopian emigration to the Washington area is more than 60 years old. Immigrants’ children have been raised here as American citizens and are an integral part of the economy of the city.
During the ’80s, Ethiopians created a large and vibrant Ethiopian community in the 18th and U Streets area of Northwest, opening businesses, restaurants, and shops. Ethiopians brought their drive for success and distinct culture to the benefit of all who venture through Adams Morgan. Today, this community has helped revitalize the 9th and U Streets area.
Due to negative media portrayal and a proud sense of heritage, Ethiopians and African-Americans have often misunderstood each other. It is through education and dialogue that these communities will see how much they have in common and get inspiration from each other. Only together and united will they be able to successfully face the challenges and opportunities in Washington, D.C., and beyond.
Ethiopian American Cultural Center