Few Ethiopians know that Dr. Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian to receive an American college degree. And even fewer know of his tireless struggles in a foreign land against the Fascist occupation of his country.
On March 5, 2017, Dr. Melaku will be remembered by the New York chapter of Global Alliance for Justice – the Ethiopian Cause, and the New York Ethiopian Community Assistance Association (ECMAA), as they observe the 80th anniversary of both the three-day Fascist massacre of 30,000 citizens in Addis Ababa, as well as the start of Dr. Melaku’s diplomatic campaigns to free his homeland from Fascist occupation. The occasion will be observed with prayers, speeches, and film clips on March 5, 2017, at 301 Cathedral Parkway (Corner of West 110 St & Frederick Douglass Blvd), New York, NY 10026.
Melaku was born in Wollo Province on April 27, 1900. His parents, Grazmach Bayen and Woizero Desta, had moved to Harar Province where Melaku joined a church school and was quickly noticed by Crown Prince Tafari Makonen for his brilliance. As luck would have it, young Melaku became was one of the three young boys, including Beshahwoured Habtewold and Worku Gobena, selected by the Crown Prince to be sent to school in British India on January 19, 1921. In India the three students joined a preparatory school under British tutors who constantly kept reminding them of the colonial ambitions of Great Britain and that Ethiopia too would soon become a British colony.
The young students were upset by these offensive remarks but all they could think of was to return to their own country or go to America where they learned the country had a democratic government that was against colonialism. It was very difficult to arrange the long trip, but eventually, the students came to America to pursue their education armed with only a letter of recommendation from Crown Prince Tafari Makonen addressed to President Warren Harding of the United States.
As improbable as it may seem, the Ethiopian guests were fortunate to be able to meet President Harding in the White House and to receive from him a generous advice on their planned education. The President advised them to join his alma mater, Marietta College in Columbus, Ohio. The Ethiopians promptly expressed the Crown Prince’s deep appreciation and their own sincere thanks to the President and immediately submitted their applications to the dean of admissions of that college. They were joyful when they received a positive reply.
Once the three able students completed their degree programs, two of them headed home while Malaku Bayen decided to join the graduate school at the Ohio State University, and upon completion, he transferred to Howard University, in Washington D.C. where he enrolled in the medical faculty. After vigorous work and successful results, Malaku obtained his degree of Doctor of Medicine, cum laude.
Immediately after graduation, Dr. Malaku returned to his home country in the early 1930’s and joined his compatriots to serve his people as a physician. It was an outstanding, selfless and timely contribution. Unfortunately, Malaku had also to prepare himself for an expected Italian aggression against his people.
Surely, his school work in America that lasted for well over a decade was intended to serve him for his nation’s growth and development. That hopeful dream and thoughtful anticipation had now become a midnight dream.
Fascist Italy attacked Ethiopia in late 1935 and Malaku served as Emperor Haile Selassie’s physician and aide in charge of 120,000 combatants. When the war began, Italian warplanes started dropping nerve gas with cruel brutality and efficiency.
Having fought and witnessed these fascist atrocities with his own eyes, Emperor Haile Selassie appeared before the League of Nations and sadly said, “This most deplorable scheme was eventually accomplished. Man and beast perished completely. The deadly downpour that descended from the sky made anyone who touched it to suffer with torment,” adding, “Those who drank the water upon which this poisonous rain had settled or ate the food which the poison had touched died in dreadful agony.”
The Emperor and his top advisers concluded that if they were to save their land from fascist atrocities, they had no alternative but to seek the active cooperation of peace-loving people everywhere. They decided to send Dr. Malaku Bayen to the United States to join Americans, especially African Americans, who had already begun to support the Ethiopian cause.
Dr. Malaku Bayen reached the United States in September 1936, and Harlem in New York City became his base of operation. Immediately, the young physician introduced a very valuable review “The Voice of Ethiopia” and soon established an organization called “The Ethiopian World Federation.” Dr. Malaku assembled prominent African Americans who devoted time and resources to assist actively Ethiopian patriots in action and to stand firmly in opposition to those who rushed to endorse fascist aggression against Ethiopia. The supporters of his cause included leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois, Rev. Lloyd Imes, Mildred Houston, Lorenzo King and a cross-section of individuals and organizations in the Caribbean, America and Europe. Dr. Malaku proclaimed that his organization was pledged to continue the struggle for the liberation of the entire black race and he encouraged his collaborators never to slow down their efforts to dismantle Mussolini and his fascist soldiers and send them back home before they committed further destruction. In the 1940’s, there was hope. Ethiopians began to see the giant fascist colonial castle collapsing.
Dr. Malaku Bayen left no stone unturned in his struggle against fascists who massacred his people and occupied peaceful Ethiopia. He was able to mobilize massive protest marches of supporters numbering over 20,000 in Harlem, New York City. Unfortunately, he died on May 4, 1940, at age 40, just one year before Ethiopia’s independence, from what doctors described as exhaustion. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York, on may 11, 1940.
Rest in peace Dr. Malaku; your country will always remember you for your devotion to fight for its rightful causes and to safeguard its independence.
Note to readers: Any relatives or friends of Dr. Melaku interested in his story may contact us at 646-508-6607 or Kasslighting@gmail.com. ethiopmedia.