After my last posting on Anti-Fascist dieselpunk and the Spanish Civil War, which owed much to Steampunk Emma Goldman’s original blog, I began thinking about the other great anti-fascist struggle also lost in the shadow of WWII. In 1935, before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia–one of the few African territories at the time not under European colonial control. The brutal attack on Ethiopia (then also called Abyssinia), which employed poison gas and flame throwers on civilian populations, was partly strategic, and also revenge–for an Italy still smarting from their humiliating defeat by Ethiopian forces at the Battle of Adwa in 1896.
While the near impotent League of Nations remained shamefully complicit in their refusal to denounce Mussolini or allow arms to a beleaguered Ethiopia, outrage was heard from throughout the black diaspora. Ethiopia had long functioned as a symbolic political and cultural historical site in black popular culture, politics and thought; and the invasion by Italy was seen by many as an attack on the entire ”black world.” In the United States black newspapers covered the war extensively, citing fascist atrocities, criticizing American neutrality and calling for blacks around the world to rally to Ethiopia’s defense.
In an act of early Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism and anti-fascism, diverse voices in the US from the African Patriotic League to the president of the National Baptist Convention to the Fraternal Council of Negro Churches, called on African-Americans to support Ethiopia by any means. In the black mecca of the age, Harlem, the Provisional Committee for the Defense of Ethiopia was formed in February 1935, bringing together black fraternities, sororities, nationalists, communists and more in a united front against fascism. Similar pro-Ethiopian groups emerged from the urban North to the deep Jim Crow South. Black columnist George Schuyler of the Pittsburgh-based Courier, claimed at the time he had not spoken to blacks anywhere in the country that did not want to do something for Ethiopia.
By 1936, a call for volunteers to travel to the defense of Ethiopia began to emerge. From New York to Kansas City, thousands of African-Americans voiced their willingness to enlist to fight on behalf of the East African nation. The Ethiopian government even inquired the US government on the legality of African-American recruits. But the United States, fearful of being drawn into the conflict, threatened that any such recruits entering into a war against a country (fascist-Italy) with which their government was presently at peace, would face both a stiff fine and imprisonment. Many black groups, dismayed by this response, scaled back their activities to relief aid and lobbying on Ethiopia’s behalf. Others however, vowed to skirt the law. A 1978 article by historian William Scott relates:
…other groups, undeterred by the government, openly defied the ruling. Spirited recruitment of volunteers continued in Harlem, where one militant group boasted publicly of 2,000 volunteers and boldly discussed plans to buy or charter a freighter that would carry black soldiers to Ethiopia. Another organization, the Black Legion, reportedly 3,000 strong, established a training camp in up-state New York with instructors for five hundred pilots and for two full regiments of infantry.69 Sufi Abdul Hamid, leader of the group, considered that his followers stood ready to renounce their American citizenship in order to serve the “mother country.
For full article and the dieselpunk connection, see my blog: