Media Expertise Profile/ MIRH/ 18 April 2022
By Fekadu Alemu
Journalist, Medical Doctor, and Human rights activist
Melaku Beyan was born in wollo in 1900 G.C (1892 E.C). He was then raised in the house of Ras Makonnen in Harar, and later in the palace of his son Crown Prince Tafari in Addis Ababa. Melaku was first sent to India in 1921 along with two other Ethiopians to prepare them for medical in England. However, when he saw the subjugation of Indians by the British, he decided to go to the United States, instead.
In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College in Ohio, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United States. Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 19 28. Then, a year later, he decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington DC in order to be close to the Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African-American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and Pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora in the Americas.
Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1935 at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E.Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. And later that year at the Battle of Maychew in the northern front, he served as Emperor Haile Selassie’s physician as well as treated the injured patriots. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa in May 1936, Melaku followed the emperor to England. Shortly afterward, he returned to the United States with his family to fully campaign for Ethiopia.
A staunch believer in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was a student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African-Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict.
In 1937 Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation, which became an important international organization with branches in the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.
That same year, Melaku also founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia with the motto of “it is better to die than slavery”, the organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper. The paper urged Ethiopians scattered throughout the world as well as African-Americans to join hands in the struggle to liberate Ethiopia from Italian occupation. To this end, Melaku raised funds to support the resistance army as well as thousands of Ethiopians displaced by the war. In 1939 he wrote a book entitled “The March of Black Men: Ethiopia Leads”.
Melaku died at the age of 40 from pneumonia which he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. He died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. To be sure, his tireless campaign contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia.
- Dr. Mesert chekol, 2013, The Quest for Press Freedom: One Hundred Years of History of the Media in Ethiopia.
- Other unpublished notes