FROM THE HISTORY BOOK : Washington DC’s 3rd Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony

Addis DC

Dr. Mikael Wossen and Ms. Gail Hansberry presenting wreath accompanied with Father Melvin Deal and Sergeant Ashenafi Kebede

Dr. Mikael Wossen and Ms. Gail Hansberry presenting wreath accompanied with Father Melvin Deal and Sergeant Ashenafi Kebede-PHOTO-Ambassador Matt Andrea

By Andrew Laurence – Ethiopian American Cultural Association

On May 5th 1936 Italian colonial troops marched into Addis Ababa reeking mass destruction on the entire population of Ethiopia in an attempt to reconcile their loss to Ethiopia in the Battle of Adwa in 1896. Five years later to the day, in 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie entered Ethiopia and with the help of the Ethiopian Patriots and other African forces was able to eject Italy from Ethiopia for good. For the last seventy-two years, on May 5th, Ethiopians have celebrated the victory over the Italians and the freedom they have enjoyed for thousands of years.

This year, on Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 4 pm the 3rd Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony commemorating the 72nd Ethiopian/African Victory of Miazia 27 (May 5, 1941) took place at the African-American Civil War Memorial (10th and U St. NW), Washington DC. The 1st Year Ceremony was held starting on Thursday May 5, 2011 by African Beat with dinner at the Fasil Ethiopian Restaurant and continued on “Mother’s Day,” Sunday, May 8, 2011, featuring a wreath presentation by two Ethiopian Patriots of the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-41, Ms. Almaz Hailu and Sergeant Mekonnen Abebe. A woman patriot was selected for the first wreath laying presentation in remembrance of all the Ethiopian mothers who lost tens of thousands of children who perished by the environmental destruction of the Chemical War.

The 2nd Year Wreath Laying Ceremony in 2012, was presented by Father Melvin Deal, the iconic African-American social activists and the founding director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers and Ambassador Imru Zeleke, former prisoner of war who survived General Adolfo Graziani’s massacre of February 19th, 1936 and the uncle of one of the three Ethiopians who came to the United States in 1920’s.

It was a beautiful spring day as the Sergeant at Arms Ashenafi Kebede (Korean War veteran) stood beside the wreath provided by Nubia Fasil of Convention Floral with Ethiopian community photographer Matt Andrea there to capture it all. A drumming and dancing presentation was provided by Thomas Young’s Afro-American Iskista Group and African Heritage Dancers and Drummers led by Father Melvin Deal. The dancers’ energy and talent inspired many attendees to join in showing their own African dancing skills.

Many attendees recounted stories about their own knowledge of the history of African and African American responses to aggression. Due recognition was given to the many African-Americans who donated money, lobbied and even signed up to fight for Ethiopia. Descendants of Ethiopian Patriot Fighters were present with pictures and wearing t-shirts prideful of their ancestors. Stories were told of the recruiting efforts of Dr. Melaku Bayen and war exploits of Colonel John C. Robinson. Many people took photos with the wreath as well as each other. Mention was made of the many Ethiopian Patriots from Woizero Shewareged Gedile to Ras Mesfin Sileshi who fought the Italians valiantly.

Due to renovation of the African-American Memorial, the actual wreath laying was conducted inside the African-American Civil War Museum. The wreath presenters were Ms. Gail A. Hansberry (the daughter of Professor William Leo Hansberry who was awarded the First African Research Award from the Haile Selassie I Prize Trust in 1964) and Dr. Mikael Wossen, Chairman of the Ethiopian Genocide Committee and the grandson of Dejazmatch Hailu Kebede, who was an Ethiopian military commander whose decapitated head was displayed in Rome by the fascist Italians.  Surrounding them were the many well-wishers that had celebrated at the Memorial, joined by those who came for the follow-up panel discussion taking place at the Museum.

Mr. Hari Jones, Director of the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum moderated an excellent panel of outstanding speakers. The program this year was a special recognition of the work of the GreatHowardUniversity professor Dr. William Leo Hansberry. Professor Hansberry graduate of HarvardUniversity and known as the “Father of African History” founded the African-American Institute and the Ethiopian Research Council at HowardUniversity with Dr. Ralph Bunche, US Ambassador and others for the study of African history. He travelled to Ethiopia and other African countries doing original ground breaking research. He was the progenitor of future African and African-American Studies programs in the US.

The first presenter was Ms. Gail A. Hansberry, daughter of Prof. Hansberry spoke fondly and personally about her father. She talked about going to class with him and receiving personal lectures on all areas of African history. She related how generous her father was to African students from Kwame Nkrumah, first prime minister and president of Ghana to Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of post-colonial Nigeria. Ms. Hansberry an art and art history professor at North Carolina Central University, independent editorial researcher and executive director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History from 1990-92 has spoken widely about her father’s work at various venues.

Following her wonderful presentation, Prof. Joseph E. Harris, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Howard University who edited two books by Professor Hansberry after he died in 1965 spoke eloquently about his mentor Dr. William Leo Hansberry. The first book was entitled “Pillars in Ethiopian History: the William Leo Hansberry African History Notebook, Volume One”. The second was “Africa & Africans as Seen by Classical Writers: the William Leo Hansberry African History Notebook, Volume Two.”  Dr. Harris, a preeminent scholar and world-renowned expert on Africa, worked diligently to legitimate the study of African history. He discussed the need to study the African Diaspora in the Middle East and South East Asia.

The next presenter was Dr. K. Wesley Alford, who taught at North Carolina A&T State University and Texas Tech University, wrote his 1998 doctoral dissertation entitled “A Prophet without Honor: William Leo Hansberry and the Origins of the Discipline of African Studies (1894-1939).” He recounted the difficulty Hansberry encountered in getting his research properly recognized. He also presented evidence of how Prof. Hansberry raised financial aid to support African students in their studies in the US. Dr. Alford revealed how Prof. Hansberry was inspired after reading W.E.B. Dubois’s book “The Negro” and reading all 160 books in the bibliography.

A lively discussion followed the excellent presentations especially by a Howard student of Dr. Hansberry and other invited guests. A delightful culinary break was provided by Sosina and Slaiman of Aljezira Restaurant Skyline International Market of Falls Church VA.  It was followed by many interesting personal conversations that lasted into the late evening. One can only look forward to next year’s annual Wreath Laying Ceremony and the possibilities of future honorees. A huge thank you should be extended to Mr. Tamrat Medhin for organizing not only these programs but his monthly Ethio-Mixers and many years of service to the greater community.

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