In 1935, as Ethiopia braced for a war with Fascist Italy, African Americans from Harlem to Chicago and beyond rose in support of the African nation.
Black people in a segregated and racist America saw Ethiopia’s struggle for independence as symbolic of the larger fight against oppression. They saw the upcoming war as an extension of bigger struggle.
Black newspapers across the country offered their support.
Volunteers weren’t allowed to go fight for Ethiopia, but a few managed. Here is one: John “Brown Condor” Robinson from Chicago, a pilot.
Robinson was “a brilliant and highly intellectual aspiring pilot who had earned his flying credentials while working as a janitor for the Curtiss-Wright School of Aviation in Chicago. He had been repeatedly denied entry as a student to the all-white school”
He had been inspired by Bessie Coleman “the first African American woman to hold a pilot license”
Robinson couldn’t find place that allowed Black people to train as pilots. He decided to build a plane with fellow mechanic-aviator, Cornelius Coffey.
In 1931, Robinson, Coffey, and other volunteers built the first Black-owned airport in a predominantly Black town of Robbins, IL. “Their earliest students were mainly guys from Coffey’s Chicago garage as well as five women; including Janet Waterford Bragg and Willa Brown.”
Bragg became the first African-American woman to hold a commercial pilot license. Willa Bragg “helped Robinson open up the US armed forces to African Americans, eventually enabling an all-Black military pilot group to serve in WWII, known as the Tuskegee Airmen”
In 1935, Colonel John C. Robinson made it to Ethiopia.
“He joined another aviator, Hubert Julian, dubbed “The Black Eagle of Harlem”…the two airmen quickly clashed in a very public spot at the Hotel de France in the capital of Addis Ababa. “
Eventually, Robinson became commander of the Ethiopian Air Force and helped to train new pilots. As war broke out, Robinson flew reconnaissance missions. In 1936, however, when Italy’s military overwhelmed Ethiopia, Robinson returned to the United States and continued to teach aviation in Chicago. In 1944 he returned to Ethiopia and once again trained air force pilots. He went on to help establish Ethiopian Airlines.
Colonel John C. Robinson died in 1954 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from injuries suffered during a plane crash.
We want to say thank you to African Americans for the past support and the present fight against ongoing injustice. We stand in solidarity as Black people.
When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia The “Harlem League Against War and Fascism” secretly volunteered and trained for military action – Nurse Kea of Harlem hospital established 75-bed hospital and delivered two tons of medical supplies. (Read Wm Jatz book The Lincoln Brigade)