July 23, 2014

On this day July 23rd...


Born in Ethiopia on this day in 1892, HIM Haile Sellassie 1st was crowned emperor in 1930 but exiled during World War II after leading the resistance to the Italian invasion. He was reinstated in 1941 and sought to modernize the country over the next few decades through social, economic and educational reforms. He ruled until 1974, when famine, unemployment and political opposition forced him from office. HIM Haile Sellassie 1st was Ethiopia's 225th and last emperor, serving from 1930 until his overthrow by the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974. The longtime ruler traced his line back to Emperor Menelik I, who was credited with being the child of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. 

He was born in a mud hut in Ejersa Gora on July 23, 1892. Originally named Lij Tafari Makonnen, he was the only surviving son of Ras Makonnen, the governor of Harar. Among his father's important allies was his cousin, Emperor Menelik II, who did not have a male heir to succeed him. Ras Tafari seemed like a possible candidate when, following his father's transition in 1906, he was taken under the wing of Emperor Menelik. In 1913, however, after the transition of Menelik II, it was the emperor's grandson, Lij Yasu, not Ras Tafari, who was appointed as emperor. But Lij Yasu, who maintained a close association with Islam, never gained favor with Ethiopia's majority Christian population. As a result Ras Tafari became the face of the opposition, and in 1916 he was elevated to the unofficial head of the Nation. The following year Emperor Menelik II's daughter, Zauditu, became Empress, and Ras Tafari was named regent and heir apparent to the throne. For a country trying to gain its foothold in the young century and curry favor with the West, the progressive Negus Tafari came to symbolize the hopes and dreams of Ethiopia's younger population. In 1923 he led Ethiopia into the League of Nations. The following year, he traveled to Europe, becoming the first Ethiopian ruler to go abroad. His power only grew. In 1928 he was appointed King, and two years later, after the transition of Empress Zauditu, he was made Emperor and assumed his baptismal name Haile Sellassie 1st ("First Might of the Trinity") as his throne name. 

Over the next four decades, HIM Haile Sellassie 1st presided over a country and government that was an expression of his personal authority. His reforms greatly strengthened schools and the police, and he instituted a new constitution and centralized his own power. In 1936 he was forced into exile after Italy invaded Ethiopia. HIM Haile Sellassie 1st became the face of the resistance as he went before the League of Nations in Geneva for assistance, and eventually secured the help of the British in reclaiming his country and re-instituting his powers as emperor in 1941. HIM Haile Sellassie 1st again moved to try to modernize his country. In the face of a wave of anti-colonialism sweeping across Africa, he granted a new constitution in 1955, one that outlined equal rights for his citizens under the law, but conversely did nothing to diminish HIM Haile Sellassie's own powers.

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