The Lion of Judah in the New World: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Shaping of Americans' Attitude toward Africa

Article excerpt

BIOGRAPHY Theodore M. Vestal. The Lion of Judah in the New World: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Shaping of Americans' Attitude toward Africa. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 201 1 . xv + 231 pp. Photo Essay. Notes. Selected Bibliography. Index. $44.95. Cloth.

"In present-day Ethiopia," begins this fascinating book, "few know just how popular their monarch was in the New World" (xi). This is a valid observation, but we could also say the same about the younger generation in present-day America. Compared to the situation in the past, the image of Ethiopia in the minds of most Americans is much less positive today, and far fewer Americans have memories of the Haile Selassie. Vestal claims that "the images of Africa and of Africans that the American people developed during Haile Selassie's prominence will no doubt be referred to by historians, psychologists, and sociologist - as well as the media - as having played a part in the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008" (xiii). This claim cannot be determined empirically, but this book is nevertheless invaluable for at least three groups of scholars: experts and students of Africa, comparative historians, and political scientists.

For Africanists, it contains rich data about a long-reigning monarch in northeast Africa which have either been unknown before or not systematically organized. There is much in the book about the personality and political instincts of Haile Selassie, especially as they pertain to his foreign policies. Comparative historians will benefit from its accounts of the monarch's perspectives on pan-Africanism and collective security. And political scientists will have much to learn here about the nuances of the relationship between a weak state in the periphery and a rising global power.

Clearly many Americans were fascinated by Emperor Haile Selassie. In 1954 the New York Times wrote that he was "a man of courage, intelligence and great humanity" (89), and it printed the full text of his speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. In a period of less than ten years, Haile Selassie was twice named Time magazine's man of the year. American presidents who knew Haile Selassie, too, were unreserved in their praise for the African monarch. During his first state visit to the U.S. in 1954 Dwight Eisenhower described the him as "a defender of freedom and a supporter of progress" (53), and he was appreciative of the emperor's decision to send Ethiopian troops to fight alongside Americans in Korea. Harry Truman by and large ignored him, perhaps because the relationship between the two countries was stable and Truman was preoccupied with the emerging challenge from the Soviet Union. …

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