Theodore M. Vestal

Professor of Political Science

534 Math Sciences Building

Oklahoma State University

Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078‑1060

(405) 744‑7586




     2001 marks the forty‑seventh anniversary of the first visit to Oklahoma by a reigning foreign head of state. It was neither metropolitan Oklahoma City nor Tulsa that played host to the visiting potentate, but Stillwater, where Haile Selassie, "King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia" came to personally thank Oklahoma State University (then called Oklahoma A. and M. College) for its work in assisting in modernizing agriculture and education in his nation. A dinner and reception for Selassie and his nineteen person entourage held at the college's new Student Union Building on 18 June 1954 was the social event of the year (and possibly of the century) in Oklahoma and signaled the ascent of Oklahoma A. and M. (A&M) to the top ranks of U.S. universities involved in technical assistance and international education. At the time, the Emperor was 61; the state of Oklahoma, only 46 years old.

     The Oklahoma‑Ethiopia connection had been initiated by Selassie in 1950 when he requested Henry G. Bennett, then president of A&M, to come to Ethiopia to explore the possibility of establishing an agricultural college there. The two men held productive meetings, and upon his return to the U.S., Bennett talked with President Harry Truman and Senator Robert S. Kerr (D‑OK) about his visit to Ethiopia and his philosophy of educational aid to developing countries. Truman was so impressed by Bennett's report that in November 1950, he appointed him the first head of the Technical Cooperation Administration to implement the President's fledgling Point Four technical assistance program.1

     Because of Bennett's 1950 trip to Ethiopia and his friendship with Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia was the first country to request technical assistance under the Point Four program. On 16 June 1951, the U.S. and Ethiopia signed a technical assistance agreement, and a contract, one of the first under Point Four, was awarded to A&M to develop an agricultural college in Ethiopia modeled after the American land‑grant system. The contract provided for the Oklahoma group to establish an agricultural education, research and extension system "to seek out and apply scientific knowledge to the agriculture of Ethiopia."2 Tragically, Bennett and his wife were killed in an airplane crash in Iran a few months after the contract was signed, in December 1951, while on a tour of Point Four projects in Africa and the Middle East.3

     A six man survey team from A&M went to Ethiopia in August 1952 to begin what was subsequently described as "the great adventure" in international education.4 Because there were no Ethiopian students qualified to enter a college of agriculture, A&M's first education program was the establishment of the Jimma Agricultural Technical School (JATS) to prepare students for university‑level work. A handsome campus was built for JATS 225 miles southwest of Addis Ababa.5 By the time of the Emperor's visit to Stillwater in 1954, there were twenty A&M personnel working with eighty Ethiopian students in Jimma. A&M's plans for a new Imperial Ethiopian College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts to be built at Alemaya, near Harar in western Ethiopia, and 210 miles east of Addis Ababa, had been approved by the Emperor.6


When the Emperor came to Oklahoma, he was in the middle of his first visit to the United States, a two month‑long, 7,000 mile tour of North America. Selassie was one of the best‑known international celebrities at the time, remembered for his eloquent appeal for collective security to the League of Nations in 1936 when Mussolini's fascists invaded his nation and for his sending Ethiopian troops to join United Nations forces in the Korean war in 1950‑1953. Ethiopia enjoyed a special cachet in the United States for having been "First to be Freed" from Axis occupation, for promptly signing the Declaration of the United Nations of 1 January 1941, and for participating in the United Nations founding conference at San Francisco in 1945.

The year 1954 in many ways was the high water mark of Haile Selassie's success and prestige (although in the 1960s he would be admired as an elder statesman and chief founder of the Organization of African Unity).7 In mid‑May, the Emperor had negotiated agreements with the United States on military assistance and defense installations that were to make Ethiopia the prime recipient of U.S. military and economic assistance in Africa. He signed the Anglo‑Ethiopian Agreement of 1954 that completed the restoration of Ethiopia's internationally recognized pre‑1935 frontiers, a goal Selassie had pursued since the end of World War II. His nation had gained access to the sea, two years before, when the former Italian colony, Eritrea, became "an autonomous state federated with Ethiopia" under the Ethiopian crown. In short, the Emperor had brought his country to the position of military and political leadership in a continent which, with the exceptions of Egypt, Liberia, and South Africa, was still under colonial rule.8

Selassie had been invited to the U.S. by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when the two met near Cairo after the Yalta Conference in 1945, but exigencies of World War II and the post‑war era had prevented his coming earlier. The Emperor apparently had a "standing enchantment with the United States," and he was determined to visit North America. He also harbored the belief that diplomacy was primarily to be conducted between heads of state. When Dwight Eisenhower, whom Selassie admired for his role as commander of allied forces, became president, the Emperor pressed for a state visit.9 With the help of the new American ambassador to Ethiopia, the Reverend Joseph Simonson, Selassie secured an invitation from Eisenhower and on 12 January 1954 announced plans for a state visit.10 In doing this, the Emperor signaled that he was sure of the stability of his nation and the safety of his throne‑‑sureties that he had not enjoyed only a short time before.11

Members of the royal party accompanying the Emperor on the state visit changed in various destinations. The entourage that came to Oklahoma included the Emperor's third son, the Cambridge‑educated 24 years old Prince Sahle Selassie; the Emperor's granddaughter, Sebla Desta, who was 19 and a student in Great Britain; Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes, Minister of Justice and Minister of the Pen (next to the Emperor, the most powerful man in the Ethiopian government, who had been called "the real ruler of Ethiopia" and the "Eminence Grise"); two future prime ministers: Aklilu Habte Weld, Minister of Foreign Affairs (who had signed the United Nations Charter for Ethiopia in San Francisco in 1945) and Endalkatchew Mekonnen, the Oxford‑educated Chief of Protocol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who did most of the interpreting for the Emperor during the American tour; Aide de Camp to the Emperor, Colonel Makonnen Deneke, a bald giant of a man thought by some Americans to be Selassie's personal body guard; John H. Spencer, an American, who for many years had served as advisor to the Emperor and to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who wrote the Emperor's numerous speeches and toasts given during the tour of North America;12 other Ethiopian officials and the Emperor's personal aides;13 Ambassador Simonson and officers from the U.S. Department of State;14 and the Vice President of Trans‑World Airlines (TWA), Thomas K. Taylor.15

The Emperor and his entourage had been feted in major cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.16 At a White House dinner, President Eisenhower spoke of Selassie as a man "who has established a reputation as a defender of freedom and a supporter of progress." The Emperor addressed a joint session of Congress, a meeting of the United Nations, and the Canadian Parliament. Selassie was cheered by more than a million New Yorkers in a ticker tape parade down lower Broadway and was given honorary degrees by Howard University, Columbia University, McGill University, and the University of Michigan (he also visited Harvard and Princeton). In addition to being welcomed by governors, mayors, and public officials, the Emperor had toured, among other places, a Michigan automobile factory, the Chicago stockyards, a U.S. Steel plant, the grand Coulee Dam, a California oil refinery, harbor installations in Long Beach, and the 20th Century Fox movie studios in Hollywood. He attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, where he donned a fielders's glove as Casey Stengel presented him with a souvenir baseball. The Emperor's only contact with rural America was in southern Minnesota, the home of Ambassador Simonson, who arranged a visit to a farm by the royal party, who were served home‑made cookies and lemonade. Major newspapers in the cities Selassie visited lauded the Emperor in editorials and described him in such glowing terms as "a man of courage, intelligence, and great humanity." Immediately before coming to Oklahoma, the Emperor had been in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and had spent the night in Yosemite National Park.


The United States that Selassie so desired to see in 1954 was prosperous and basically peaceful. Eisenhower was in his second year as President displaying the candor and decency that were to be hallmarks of his administration. The population was burgeoning with the births of the baby boomer generation, and the economy was growing too. By year's end, stocks on the New York Stock Exchange would reach their highest level since 1929. The Korean War was winding down, and the United Nations was attempting to negotiate peace with the governments of the Peoples Republic of China and North Korea. In Vietnam, however, French colonial forces fighting Ho Chi Min's rebels suffered major losses including the fall of Dien Bien Phu in May. Shortly thereafter, the combatants signed a truce accord in Geneva that later would have profound consequence for the United States.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education declaring unconstitutional segregation in public schools.17 On the day the Emperor arrived in Stillwater, the Army‑McArthy inquiry ended. Earlier in the month Edward R. Murrow had exposed McArthyism in his television program, but it would not be until December that Senator Jospeh McArthy (R‑WI) would be censored by his Senate colleagues.

A series of "firsts" of world significance occurred in 1954. While the U.S. military carried out atomic bomb test explosions in the Marshall Islands, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) made public that the first full scale thermonuclear (hydrogen) explosion had occurred at Eniwetok in 1952. The "father of the atom bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer, however, was designated a security risk by the Commission. The AEC also announced the discovery of a new 99th element that would be named Einsteinium (Es) and added to the periodic table of the elements. The first atomic‑ powered submarine, "Nautilus" was launched, as was the largest warship ever built, the carrier, USS Forrestal. Although many American households did not yet have television, the first colored TV sets manufactured in the U.S. rolled off RCA's production line. National and international news was encapsulated in fifteen minute evening news programs of the three major television networks. In the month the Emperor arrived in the U.S., Roger Bannister ran the first sub‑four minute mile. Health officials began inoculating children with Salk antipolio serum, and the magazine Sports Illustrated began publication.

In arts, Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel prize for literature; painter Henri Matisse died at 84, and Arturo Toscanini retired as conductor of the NBC Symphony at 87. "From Here to Eternity" won the Oscar for best motion picture. In sports, Willie Mays and Yoga Berra, whom the Emperor saw play in New York, were the most valuable players in their respective baseball leagues.


In 1954, Oklahoma A. and M. was still enjoying the benefits of the post World War II boom under the leadership of Oliver Willham, the first alumnus to serve as president. Major new buildings from Bennett's 1930 master plan of the campus had recently been constructed in the uniform architecture never officially named but generally known as "Williamsburg Georgian" or "modified Georgian," featuring red brick buildings with white trim and brown and green roofs. In 1950, the student union described as "the Waldorf Astoria of Student Unions" had opened, and in 1953, the library, one of the five largest open stack libraries in the world at the time, had been dedicated.18 Furthermore, the campus had been peacefully integrated in 1953‑‑a year ahead of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education's call for desegregation. African American students had been admitted as undergraduates, and A&M's living and dining facilities were open to all students. In the Spring, the A&M cross country team won the national championship and the wrestling team won its seventeenth national title. At the May 1954 commencement, 1,662 degrees were awarded (a sizeable group at that time but less than half of the number graduating from OSU in 2000).


On Friday, June 18th, the royal party flew from the Ontario, California, International Airport to Stillwater aboard the special Trans‑World Airline Super Constellation, "Star of Bombay," a four‑engined prop plane considered the top airliner at the time. The California‑to‑Oklahoma flight took about four hours, but the pilot, Captain V.J. Stott, at the Emperor's request, had circled over Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam for twenty minutes.19    At 3:30 p.m., the Star of Bombay landed at Stillwater's Municipal Airport, where a crowd of 1,100 including national, state, and local dignitaries was on hand to greet the Emperor. It was a hot late Spring day with the temperature near 100 degrees, and many women carried parasols. The Stars and Stripes and the green, gold, and red banner of Ethiopia hung from two new flag poles erected for the occasion at the Searcy Field airport. As the A&M band played, Selassie, who stood five feet four inches tall, emerged from the plane dressed in a field marshall's sun tan dress uniform with nine rows of campaign ribbons (including the U.S. Legion of Merit) and carrying a very long leather swagger stick. His Imperial Majesty (as protocol required the Emperor to be called) gave a smart salute to his audience before being officially welcomed by President Willham, Stillwater's Mayor A.B. Alcott, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor James E. Barry, and Ambassador Simonson.20 The Emperor had requested an opportunity to see "an Indian," and Acee Blue Eagle, a well‑ known Native American artist from Okmulgee, in full headdress and buckskin clothing, presented Selassie with a war bonnet and gave him the name "Great Buffalo High Chief."21

Reporters from Tulsa and Oklahoma City radio and television stations were on hand to broadcast brief remarks by the Emperor (translated from Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, by "tall fine‑featured" Endalkatchew).22 To questions from newsmen, Selassie said he was "greatly impressed by the overwhelming welcome" he had received in the United States "and by the variety of industry and the standard of living." He said he intended to tell his people about the United States in detail.23

Some seventeen A&M deans, professors, and administrative officials and their wives had been assigned as escorts for the visitors.24 They shepherded the royal party into convertibles provided by a local automobile dealer for the occasion and traveled to the A&M campus in a parade of Buicks (the leather car seats were quite hot because the autos had been sitting for an hour in direct sunlight).25 The guests took a quick tour of the library and classroom building, where they were shown original blue‑prints of the proposed Imperial Agricultural College, before going to their rooms at the "fashionable Student Union hotel."26

The Emperor and his entourage stayed in the Presidential Suite, the entire third floor of the hotel. A snack bar was set up for the visitors on the fourth floor, and the Emperor's son, Sahle, had a jukebox in his room,27 where he enjoyed listening to records of Frank Sinatra and other "swoon crooners." Prince Sahle also showed a fondness for the union's special‑deluxe hot dogs and ice cream sundaes.28


At 6:00 in the evening, 300 guests were invited to a formal dinner in Parlors A, B, and C of the Student Union that had been festooned with Ethiopian, U.S. and Oklahoma flags. The invitation list was a "who's who" of the Oklahoma power elite of the time. Among the guests were U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr, Representative Carl Albert (D‑OK) and other Congressmen, Governor Johnston E. Murray (whose term as Governor was coming to an end), Lieutenant Governor James E. Barry, state legislators, mayors of six Oklahoma cities, the Board of Regents for Oklahoma A&M College and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, sixteen college and university presidents, A&M administrators, faculty, students, alumni, and business leaders and ministers from Stillwater.29  Extra security guards were posted around the union building to protect the royal family and to help direct guests to their proper destinations.30

The dinner guests were seated promptly at 6:00, but the head table remained empty. Someone announced over the public address system that "When the guest of honor enters the room, will everyone please stand."31 All of the head table dignitaries except the Emperor were gathered in a nearby lounge. No one knew why Selassie was delayed. After thirty minutes, Abe Hesser, Director of the Student Union at the time, stepped out of the dining room to find the Emperor, only to be met by Selassie, who had not been feeling well, coming down the hall. Hesser barely had time to re‑enter the banquet hall and shout "His Majesty, the King!" bringing the guests to their feet.32 Ambassador Simonson led the head table procession into the room with the Emperor entering last to take his seat between Willham and Governor Murray's wife, Willie (who had just launched the first attempt by a woman to seek the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination). William J. Hage, minister of Stillwater's First Presbyterian Church (where Willham attended), gave an invocation, and the diners feasted on a five course dinner featuring baked tenderloin with mushroom sauce and other delicacies prepared by the union building chefs.33

In his after‑dinner welcoming speech, Governor Murray mangled the pronunciation of Ethiopia, calling it "Oklamopia,"34 but he praised Selassie as "a symbol of the spark of freedom."35 President Willham presented His Imperial Majesty with a scroll expressing respect and sincere admiration for Selassie. A&M's Vice President and Dean of Agriculture, Dr. Al E. Darlow, gave the Emperor a bronze plaque, given "in behalf of the citizens of Oklahoma," commemorating A&M's successful program of technical assistance and economic cooperation. The plaque read:

The Imperial Ethiopian College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts was founded through the devoted interest and zeal of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, and his ministers with the advisement and cooperation of the Oklahoma A&M college in the interest of and welfare of the people of Ethiopia in the year 1952 A.D.36  

Selassie subsequently had the plaque mounted in the cornerstone of the administration building at the new Alemaya campus. The Emperor gave citations and gold medals with green, gold, and red ribbons to Murray, Willham, and Darlow and made them officers of the Order of the Star of Ethiopia.     In his remarks (again translated from Amharic by Endalkatchew), the Emperor praised A&M's "valued contributions" to his country and said:

 The successful program of technical assistance and economic cooperation to which the late President Bennett and many technicians from this great institution have made valued contributions is outstanding evidence of the mutual understanding which exists between our governments and peoples. I do hope that my visit to this great country will stimulate an even greater program of technical assistance and private capital investments.37

Ambassador Simonson summarized the festive dinner by observing that in the Amharic language something that was superlative was described as "ishi." Said Simonson: "This, in Amharic, is a very ishi occasion."38

After the dinner program, the Emperor joined Governor Murray and President Willham and their wives in a receiving line to greet some 1,600 guests invited to a reception in the Student Union Ballroom in honor of Selassie.39 After the first hour, those in attendance were asked to leave in order for the remainder of the guests to be able to get into the room.40 Among the guests Selassie met at the reception was William DeWitt of Coffeyville, a young army veteran of the Korean war who had been awarded bronze and silver stars and the Haile Selassie medal for bravery while assisting an Ethiopian battalion as a forward observer during heavy fighting.41

Advance press releases had indicated that the Emperor would be in the line for only the first thirty minutes, but Selassie stood for an hour and forty minutes shaking the hands of almost everyone who came. The Emperor explained that he was pleased "the people came to see me, and they should be greeted."42 Selassie kept his right hand extended for each hand shake and accompanied it with a slight nod.43

Upon completing his hand shaking ordeal, the Emperor took a seat on a huge chair in the banquet room‑‑A&M's best approximation of a throne. Newspaper reporters present described Selassie as "stern and dignified," "a solemn but friendly man" "with the face of an aesthete."44 The Emperor, again in a brief talk, expressed his thanks to A&M:

 I have made an exception to my usual practice on this trip in leaving my itinerary entirely and making this 2,000 mile trip in order to express to you my deep appreciation. This trip has given me the opportunity to visit a truly great agricultural and mechanical college. What I have seen here this afternoon has confirmed my conviction in the enormous possibilities which lie as yet still to be uncovered in Ethiopia.45

When the reception came to an end at 10:00 p.m., Selassie held a private audience with members of the family of the late Henry G. Bennett‑‑a measure of the high regard in which the Emperor held the former A&M president and Point Four director.46

During the night following the dinner, the Emperor suffered an upset stomach and had to have medical attention. Stillwater physician George Gathers was called at about 3:30 a.m. He and the Emperor conversed in French, and the doctor "administered opiates and sulfa drugs and advised the Emperor to get more rest." For his services, Gathers was paid with a solid gold medallion commemorating the Emperor's coronation.47

The dinner and reception were the biggest social events in A&M's history.48 The attire for those attending was "strictly formal: "black ties and dark tuxedo coats for men (white jackets were acceptable for the dinner); formal dinner dresses either "ballerina or full length" for the ladies. Local merchants reported that tuxedo rentals exceeded all demands previously set by fraternity parties, and clothing stores in Oklahoma City and Tulsa reported a brisk business in formal attire. An A&M student dormitory, Stout Hall, was opened to the public for the convenience of guests needing a place on campus to change into formal clothes.49

Oklahoma newspapers, especially the Stillwater Daily  News‑Press, the Tulsa Daily World, The Tulsa Tribune, and The  Daily Oklahoman, played up the Emperor's visit with front page stories, photo coverage, and editorial greetings. The local media paid special attention to the young and photogenic Prince Sahle and Princess Sebla, who were described as "very charming, very poised."50 A&M's student newspaper, The O'Collegian, using materials provided by the U.S. Department of State, published a series of three articles on Ethiopia and Selassie during the week of the visit.51

Editorial comment varied. The News‑Press praised Selassie for having given his nation its first written constitution and for helping raise the standard of living of Ethiopians. Stated the News‑Press: "This fine Christian gentleman through the years has earned the admiration and respect of the free peoples of the world." In contrast, The  Tulsa Tribune used an editorial ostensibly welcoming Selassie to blast the Point Four program: "The $94 billion worth of money, goods and services which the United State has given to foreign nations in the past thirteen years has doubtless done a great deal of good for a great number of people, but it has brought us neither peace, security, nor a strong circle of reliable friends."


On Saturday morning, the royal party left Stillwater at 7:45 a.m. for their next destination, Mexico City. The President of Mexico, Ruiz Cortines, had phoned on Friday requesting that the Emperor arrive there at 1:00 p.m. This was a change of plans that resulted in the Ethiopians departing two hours earlier than planned. A scheduled auto procession down flag‑draped Stillwater streets (from 9th to 5th down Main) was called off, and a tour of A&M farms became an abbreviated twenty‑minute drive via College Avenue on the way to the airport. About 100 people including A&M's top officials were on hand for the Emperor's departure. Willham bid the royal party good‑bye at the steps of the ramp leading up to the "Star of Bombay."52

In Mexico, Selassie was greeted by President Cortines and his cabinet and 10,000 Mexican troops. Thousands of people cheered the Emperor on route to his hotel along streets lined with army troops.53 After a five day visit in Mexico, the royal party returned to the U.S. via New Orleans and stayed in New York City until July 12th.54 They returned to Ethiopia on August 3rd, after stops in France, Yugoslavia, and Greece.55


Perhaps it was the best of all times for Selassie to come to the United States. Nine years after the end of World War II, the Emperor's speech before the League of Nations still was the defining, positive image of Ethiopia for most Americans. The Emperor even was remembered in the lyrics of a popular song, "Shanty in an Old Shanty Town," by Johnny Long ("I'd be just as sassy as Haile Selassie, if I were a King...").

Selassie was the first African leader that most Americans had ever seen. His stalwart military bearing and dress were the epitome of dignity. His solemn demeanor and magnetic dark eyes complemented his titled, mythological descent from Solomon and Sheba. His rule of "a nation of Christians" was another positive factor in his reception. The Emperor's going out of his way to bring a message of praise for Oklahoma and A&M's leaders and overseas programs also played well with the Sooners.

The attractive, largely British‑educated royal party that accompanied the Emperor was a far cry from the stereotypical Africans portrayed in Hollywood motion pictures. Ethiopians generally are a good looking people, and the entourage that came to the United States made a favorable impression wherever they traveled. The itinerary of the royal party that included acclaimed visits to racially segregated states was a timely counterpoint to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, handed down only a few days before the Emperor's arrival in America.

With the Cold War heating up, the Emperor was a proven ally against communist aggression. His recent signing of military agreements with the United States placed Ethiopia on the "right side" in the bipolar world developing around NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.

In 1954, Africa was on the brink of emerging from the shackles of colonialism, and in contrast to the uncertainty surrounding the future of French and British colonies, Ethiopia, as an independent nation, appeared stable. Neighboring Sudan was just electing a Sundanese prime minister for the first time, while the Emperor represented the 225th ruler of his line. The chaos created in Kenya by the Mau Mau uprising was in sharp contrast to the tranquility of the highlands of Ethiopia.     The stability of Ethiopia was backed by a large American presence, especially in the Point Four programs, the TWA relationship with Ethiopian Airlines, and the U.S. military's operating a communications center in what was to become Kagnew Station in Asmara. Further, the Emperor sought U.S. investment in his country. The development of Ethiopia's natural resources, possibly including uranium, a blue chip mineral at that time, sounded promising.


The Emperor's visit to Oklahoma was a milestone in the state's history. Guests at the dinner termed the event "the most impressive" function they ever attended.56 "His Imperial Majesty's visit certainly will long remain at the top of our list of special functions here at Oklahoma A. and M. College," President Willham wrote to Ambassador Simonson.57  Said Fred Drummond of the A&M Board of Regents, "It will be a long time before Oklahoma sees an event as inspiring and as impressive as this."58 Bill Abbott, who was in charge of much of the planning for the visit (and who would serve for many years as Director of International Programs at OSU) observed in 1999 that there was "never as large or as important an event in Oklahoma."59

A month after the Emperor's visit, Ambassador Simonson wrote Willham from Addis Ababa:

You know, of course, how tremendously pleased all of us were over the marvelous way in which you handled the visit of His Imperial Majesty on your campus and in your community and State. You all acted as though you were in the habit of entertaining    royalty every week. I know that His Imperial Majesty appreciated so much the opportunity to be with you and the Oklahoma family.60

The following year, Willham returned the Emperor's visit, attending the closing events of the Silver Jubilee celebration marking the 25th anniversary of Selassie's coronation. When Willham returned home, he wrote Luther Brannon, director of OSU's Ethiopian project: "I sincerely feel that when the history of our time is written, Point Four will be listed as one of the programs that made a major contribution toward a more enlightened world."61

In the years following the Emperor's visit, the ties between A&M and Ethiopia grew even stronger and continue to the present day. A&M established an enviable reputation for running one of the nation's best Point Four programs. In addition to establishing an agricultural college, A&M helped set up a country‑wide system of agricultural extension services and agricultural research and experiment stations, and assisted the Ethiopian government in related fields pertaining to the nation's economic development. Students from Ethiopia, principally at the graduate level, have been enrolled continuously at OSU since 1957. Recognizing the significance of the Oklahoma‑Ethiopian connections, the Institute of International Education in New York City cited A&M "for outstanding contributions to the advancement of world understanding."62 Indeed, OSU has the longest continual relationship between a Sub‑Saharan African nation and an American institution of higher education. When former president Harry Truman visited Oklahoma State University shortly after its change of name and status in 1957, he expressed his appreciation for the university's leadership role in furthering Point Four.63

Official dedication ceremonies for the Imperial Ethiopian College at Alemaya were held on 16 January 1958 when the Emperor paid tribute to the first class of graduates.64 Later that year, Hugh F. Rouk, an OSU faculty member, received the Order of the Ethiopian Star from the Emperor for his work in improving the nation's coffee industry.65 The Imperial Ethiopian College continued to receive major institutional development assistance from OSU under contract with the United States Agency for International Development until 1968. During its sixteen year contract period, 185 faculty and staff from the U.S. served in Ethiopia under OSU contracts, and 57 Ethiopian students received graduate degrees from OSU.66 A project evaluator from Michigan State University wrote of the OSU program:

By all of the criteria set up for study of this sort of a development, this seems to be a most successful effort. Certainly it is the pride of Ethiopia and the American Embassy. The International Cooperation Administration (Point Four's successor organization) in Ethiopia sees this as an exemplary project with which the United States can well be proud.67

The Peace Corps worked in Ethiopia between 1962 and 1974, and several graduates of OSU served there. The first group of 244 Peace Corps Volunteers, the largest contingent sent to any country at that time, were greeted by the Emperor on 21 September 1962, shortly after their arrival. Selassie thanked the Volunteers for coming to "help drive out ignorance."68

In 1968, the Ethiopian government presented OSU with a bronze plaque commemorating the accomplishments of the university in agricultural education and research in Ethiopia and inscribed with the Emperor's signature in Amharic. Today the plaque hangs at the entrance of the Point Four Room on the first floor of the Wes Watkins Center for International Trade and Development.69

At OSU's 1970 commencement ceremonies, Emperor Haile Selassie and President Emeritus Oliver S. Willham were recipients of the prestigious Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award. The Emperor was unable to return to Stillwater for the occasion, but the Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Minasse Haile, received the award for him.70

The Imperial College became noted as a showplace for what could be accomplished in a bilateral technical development project and as a center of internationally recognized education and research excellence. In 1984, the Imperial College became the Alemaya University of Agriculture (AUA). Since its establishment as the Imperial College of Agriculture, AUA has granted 5,713 Bachelor of Science degrees, 302 Master of Science degrees, and 2,982 Diplomas.71

In the early 1990s, seven OSU faculty served in AUA's School of Forestry under a "second generation" contract funded by the World Bank. In Spring 1999, a new OSU School of International Studies memorialized the Ethiopian Point Four program in its dedicatory ceremonies‑‑affirming the continuing significance of the legacy of the Ethiopian project.72


In the years following the Emperor's visit to Oklahoma, state visits became "an almost annual compulsion" for Selassie. He seemed to enjoy his status as a celebrity and cultivated a strong international image through state visits to many parts of the world. The Emperor emerged as a respected elder statesman in Africa‑‑testimony to his contribution to African affairs in championing African independence, hosting pan‑African conferences, and mediating African disputes. The Ethiopian‑U.S. military agreements, however, resulted in Arab hostility and, as the Cold War escalated, gave the Soviets a base for intervention in Somalia.73

In 1960 the Emperor survived an abortive coup de tat led by his Body Guard, the military group distinguished for serving with the UN in Korea and the Congo. The coup, instigated by Ethiopians impatient with the rate of social and political change, was stymied in part by the U.S. military presence in Ethiopia.74 The Emperor sought to reclaim the loyalty of coup sympathizers by stepping up reform. This strategy kept his opponents at bay until 1974 when Selassie's regime was overthrown by a revolution that eventually led to the rule of a Marxist‑Leninist dictatorship, the Derg. The last years of the Emperor's reign were marked with growing discord over the gap between the immense wealth of Ethiopia's feudal aristocracy and the extreme poverty of the rest of the country. Selassie's once formidable mental powers began to slip, and he was placed under house arrest by the Derg. He spent the last year of his life sharing a small apartment with his aged valet in the palace. Until the end, the ex‑emperor dressed in a field marshall's uniform and carried his marshall's baton.75 He was allegedly executed by the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam on 27 August 1975, and his body was buried near a latrine on the palace grounds. Haile Selassie's remains finally were laid to rest in an emotional, visually stunning reburial ceremony at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa on 5 November 2000, twenty‑five years after his death.

The young Prince Sahle Selassie played a significant role in saving his father's crown in 1960 when he used his ham radio to alert the Emperor, who was on a state visit to South America, of the attempted coup.76 In 1958, Sahle had led the Ethiopian delegation to the Pan‑African Congress in Accra, Ghana. Sahle later served briefly as Governor‑General of Gamu Goffa Province. He married Princess Mahtsante Habte Mariam and had one son. Sahle died of a liver ailment complicated by pneumonia in 1962. He was only 31 at the time of his death.77

A short time after her first visit to the United States, Princess Sebla Desta married Lij Kassa Wolde Mariam, who became president of Haile Selassie I University. At the beginning of the 1974 revolution, Sebla was one of nine princesses taken away under arrest and imprisoned by the Derg. The princesses were placed in a dungeon‑like, ten‑by‑ twelve foot damp concrete cell, had their heads shaved, and were ordered to share two mattresses between them. They were charged with no crime and offered no promise of release. Visitors were not permitted, and a radio provided their only tie to the outside world.78 Sebla endured thirteen years' imprisonment, and after the fall of the Derg, she moved to the United States. Today she lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.

Aklilu Habte Weld was appointed Prime Minister in 1961 and held that position until 1974 when he was arrested and executed by the Derg. Aklilu was one of sixty leaders associated with the old regime who, on 23‑24 November 1974, were summarily executed inside the Akaki Prison without charge or trial and buried in its grounds.79 Another victim of the massacre was Endalkatchew Mekonnen who was Transitional Prime Minister for a few months after the Derg took power. In the years following his interpreting for the Emperor in Oklahoma, Endalkatchew had served as his nation's ambassador to Great Britain and as ambassador to the United Nations.80 Sebla's husband, Lij Kassa, also was executed by the Derg, along with other notable leaders of the Emperor's regime, in July 1979. They purportedly were called out from their palace dungeons one by one and covertly killed.

The wily Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes became embroiled in court intrigue and was banished to the provinces by the Emperor who appointed him governor of two remote Ethiopian states where he served from 1955‑1961, before quietly retiring.81 His rustication probably saved his life, for his successor as Minister of the Pen was among the government leaders massacred by machine‑gun in the Green Salon of the Emperor's palace during the aborted coup in 1960. In that massacre, the massive Brigadier‑General Makonnen Deneke (the Emperor's "body guard" on the U.S. tour), by then Vice Minister of the Imperial Court, was badly wounded but survived and was made Minister of State in Charge of Security in the Ministry of the Interior by the Emperor.82

John Spencer continued working for the Emperor until 1960 when he returned to the United States a few months before the abortive coup (fortuitous timing that may have saved his life). He came back to Ethiopia again to advise Selassie in 1973‑1974 just before the start of the revolution. Since that time he has lived in Connecticut where he served as a professor and wrote Ethiopia at Bay, his personal account of the Haile Selassie years.83     In the 1980s, Cuban troops occupying Alemaya during the Cold War were reported to have smashed the bronze plaque presented to the Emperor by A&M at the Stillwater dinner. Today, the AUA continues to play a vital role in higher education in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, a troubled land wrecked by ethnic strife and recuperating from a debilitating war with the neighboring nation of Eritrea.84


1.  Oklahoma State University in Ethiopia: Terminal Report  1952‑1968 (Stillwater: OSU Press, 1969), 4‑5; Jerry L. Gill, A History of International Programs at Oklahoma  State University (Stillwater: OSU, 1991), 7‑9.

2.  Terminal Report, 5‑6, Appendices A, B, C, and D; Gill, 9‑ 12.

3. Gill, 9.

4.  Terminal Report, 6‑8; Gill, 10, 15. The original survey team included Luther H. Brannon, Assistant Director of Extension at A&M and a veteran of Marshall Plan work; Albert E. Darlow, Vice President for Agriculture; Clarence L. "Dutch" Angerer, head of the Department of Agricultural Education; Hi W. Staten, crops expert in the Department of Agronomy; Dorse B. Jeffrey, farm management specialist in the Extension Division; and Evert T. Little, School of Education.

5. Terminal Report, 9‑17; Gill, 15‑21.

6. Terminal Report, 18‑49; Gill, 21‑22.

7. John H. Spencer, Ethiopia at Bay (Algonac, Mich.: Reference Publications, 1984), 276.

8. Harold G. Marcus, The Politics of Empire: Ethiopia, Great  Britain and the United States 1941‑1974 (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 1995), 89‑90; Spencer, 263, 270‑77.

9.  Spencer, 268. U.S. Secretary of State Allan Dulles sought to prevent the Emperor's state visit.

10. New York Times, 13 January 1954, 19. A&M president Oliver Willham wrote a formal invitation to the Emperor to visit the A&M campus while on his tour of North America, letter, Willham to Haile Selassie, 15 March 1954, Presidents' Papers Box 48, folder 20 (Coll. No. 70‑005), OSU Library.

11. Spencer, 277.

12. Spencer began work for the Emperor in 1936 and was with him in Geneva at the League of Nations; after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he resumed work in Ethiopia in October 1943 and continued until 1960 when he returned to the United States.

13. Kebede Mikael, one of Ethiopia's most renowned writers and poets, who at the time of the 1954 trip was Director of the National Library; Fantaye Wolde Yohannes, Director General of the Ministry of Finance; Tafarra Work Kidane Wold, Private Secretary to the Emperor; Captain Workeneh, Assistant to the Aide‑de‑camp; and two valets, Mangasha Woldemarian and Lantideru Kelklas. Albert H. Garretson represented the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. "Official Party," Presidents' Papers Box 48, folder 20 (Coll. No. 70‑005), Library; letter, Kenneth Ricker to Ed Morrison, 15 June 1954, Ibid.; memo, William S. Abbott to Kenneth Ricker, "Names to be marked off the Official Party list," 10 June 1954, Ibid.

14. John E. Utter, Director of the Office of African Affairs; Katherine McCormick, United States Information Agency; Vincent Wilber, Press Officer; and John F. McDermott, Security Officer. Ambassador Simonson and McCormick joined the entourage in Stillwater; thus, the "nineteen" in the party reported by the press instead of twenty‑one.

15. TWA had set up Ethiopian Airlines (EA) under an agreement with the Ethiopian government in 1945 and had provided managerial and supervisory personnel through the time of the Emperor's visit; the TWA‑EA connection continued until the late 1980s.

16. New York Times, 27 May 1954, 3; 28 May 1954, 5; 29 May 1954, 1, 4; 31 May 1954, 1; 2 June 1954, 33; 3 June 1954, 18, 24; 4 June 1954, 25; 5 June 1954, 19; 16 June 1954, 12; Editorial, Washington Post and Times Herald, 13 July 1954, 22. A history of the Emperor's 1954 trip to North America was written in Amharic by one of his entourage. Kebede Mikael, His Majesty (Haile Selassie I) in America  (Addis Ababa: Artistic Printing Press, 1959).

17. 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

18. Robert B. Kamm, Carolyn G. Hanneman, and Carol L. Hiner, The First Hundred Years: Oklahoma State University:  People, Programs, Places (Stillwater: OSU, 1990), 44, 58; Lewie J. Sanderson, A History of the Oklahoma State  University Campus (Stillwater: OSU, 1990), 221. Philip A. Wilber was the architect who guided the master plan to fruition.

19. "Hundreds are Disappointed, Miss Glimpse of Emperor," Stillwater Daily News‑Press, 20 June 1954, 1. After landing in Stillwater, the "Star of Bombay" flew to Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma City, where it was serviced. Mather Eakes, "Terminal Building Getting New Look," The  Daily Oklahoman, 20 June 1954, 12A.

20. Troy Gordon, "Selassie Thanks A&M for Aid, Receives Indian War Bonnets, Other Mementos," Tulsa Daily World, 19 June 1954, 1.

21. Ibid. Blue Eagle presented war bonnets, a piece of pottery with native cornmeal inside, representing the sustenance of life, and a branch of evergreen representing eternal life, to the Emperor, Prince Sahle, and Princess Sebla. He named Sahle "Thunder Eagle" and gave the name "Princess Morning Star" to Sebla. Later in the evening, Blue Eagle was given a gold medal commemorating the Emperor's visit. Blue Eagle founded the art department at Bacone College and served as its head from 1935 to 1938. His paintings are acclaimed for the use of natural colors and equisite detailing. Blue Eagle traveled extensively and did much to popularize Native American painting.

22. "Hundreds are Disappointed," 1.23. Gordon, "Selassie Thanks A&M;" Roy P. Stewart, "Ethiopia Monarch Lauds State, A&M," The Daily Oklahoman, 19 June 1954, 1.

24. "Emperor Will Land in Stillwater This Afternoon," The  Daily Oklahoman, 18 June 1954, 25. A&M personnel most responsible for the successful events involving the Emperor's visit were William Abbott, Luther Brannon, Vesta Etchison, and Abe Hesser.

25. Stewart, "Ethiopia Monarch Lauds State."

26. Gordon, "Selassie Thanks A&M." Chaplin Bills, A&M college architect, designed the Alemaya campus that included five college structures connected by covered passages and ten staff houses built of native limestone found near the college site.

27. Interview with Abe Hesser, 17 February 1999.

28. Bill Harmon, "Prince Stows 3 Hot Dogs, Plus Sundaes," The  Daily Oklahoman, 20 June 1954, 1. Sahle and Acee Blue Eagle, who had both studied in Great Britain, enjoyed a long conversation about their student days after the banquet.

29. "Banquet Invitation List," Presidents' Papers Box 48, folder 20 (Coll. No. 70‑005), OSU Library. Senator Kerr and Congressman Albert apparently accepted the invitation

    but did not attend. Congressmen Tom Steed and Victor Wickersham and their wives were present, however.

30. "Emperor Haile Selassie Greeted by City," Stillwater  Daily News‑Press, 18 June 1954, 1. City police, state highway patrol units, and security officers from the U.S. Department of State, as well as campus police were on campus to guarantee the royal party's safety. "City Police are Caught on Protocol," Stillwater Daily News‑  Press, 19 June 1954, 1.

31. Roger V. Devlin, "The Rambler," Tulsa Tribune, 19 June 1954, 11.

32. Interview with Abe Hesser, 17 February 1999. Roger Devlin reported a different version of the late start of the banquet in which Governor and Mrs. Murray walked in after the invocation. The polite audience again stood, but some present wondered if the Murrays were "making an entrance," or if they had been delayed, or if they deliberately remained back so that their presence would detract from the entrance of the royal party. Devlin, "The Rambler." Neither Hesser nor William Abbott recalled the Murrays' belated entrance.

33. The menu is included in "The Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College Dinner in Honour of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, June 18, 1954," in a scrapbook provided the author by Conrad Evans; see also, "Royalty's No Big Problem for Waitress," The Daily Oklahoman, 19 June 1954, 1.

34. Interview with William S. Abbott, 25 February 1999.

35. "Hundreds are Disappointed," 1.

36. Gordon, "Selassie Thanks A&M."

37. "Hundreds are Disappointed," 1.38. Interview with William S. Abbott, 25 February 1999; Devlin, "The Rambler." In Amharic, "ishi" means "all right," not the superlative indicated by Simonson. 39.A&M faculty and staff, Stillwater townspeople, and 200 out of town guests were invited to the reception. A program of "The Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College Reception in Honour of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, June 18, 1954," is in a scrapbook provided the author by Conrad Evans; Memo, from William S. Abbott to Vesta Etchison, 10 June 1954, Presidents' Papers Box 48, folder 20 (Coll. No. 70‑005), OSU Library.

40. Gordon, "Selassie Thanks A&M."

41. "Ethiopia's Gratitude Given State Soldier in a Citation," Tulsa Tribune, 19 June 1954, 11.

42. Interview with William S. Abbott, 25 February 1999; Joseph E. Howell, "The Little Emperor Stood Straight, Shook 1,500 Hands," Tulsa Tribune, 19 June 1954, 11.

43. Roger V. Devlin, "Emperor Haile Says Farewell to State," Tulsa Tribune, 19 June 1954, 3; Troy Gordon, "Emperor Leaves Pleasant Memories with Sooners Who Shook Royal Hand," Tulsa Daily World, 20 June 1954, 1.

44. "Oklahoma A&M Sees an Emperor Stern and Dignified," The  Daily Oklahoman, 20 June 1954, 17; Gordon, "Emperor Leaves Pleasant Memories;" Devlin, "The Rambler."

45. "Haile Selassie is a Master of Diplomacy," The Daily  Oklahoman, 20 June 1954, 17.46. "Emperor Will Land in Stillwater This Afternoon."

47. Interview with William S. Abbott, 25 February 1999; Bill Harmon, "Selassie Calls for a Doctor," The Daily  Oklahoman, 22 June 1954, 3.

48. "City is Ready for Visit of Emperor," Stillwater Daily  News‑Press, 17 June 1954, 1. 49."State's Going 'Formal' for Selassie Visit," Tulsa Daily  World, 18 June 1954, 1; "Protocol Will Prevail During Emperor's Stay," The O'Collegian, 15 June 1954, 1; columnist Roger Devlin reported that the "faint, tangy aroma which hung over the banquet hall was moth balls." Devlin, "The Rambler."

50. Harmon, "Prince Stows 3 Hot Dogs;" Editorial, "Welcome to Haile Selassie," Stillwater Daily News‑Press, 18 June 1954, 8; Editorial, "Welcome Haile Selassie," Tulsa  Tribune, 18 June 1954, 52.

51. "Selassie Lineage Goes Back to King Solomon, Queen of Sheba," The O'Collegian, 11 June 1954, 1; "Selassie Crowned Emperor in 1930," The O'Collegian, 15 June 1954, 7; "Emperor Attends Daily Devotionals," The O'Collegian, 18 June 1954, 1.

52. Roger Devlin, "Emperor Haile Says Farewell to State," Tulsa Tribune, 20 June 1954, 11.

53. New York Times, 20 June 1954, 32. 54. New York Times, 13 July 1954, 13.

55. New York Times, 4 August 1954, 23. 56. Caption beneath photograph, The O'Collegian, 22 June 1954, 5.

57. Letter, Willham to Simonson, 27 July 1954, Presidents' Papers Box 48, folder 20 (Coll. No. 70‑005), OSU Library.

58. Harmon, "Prince Stows 3 Hot Dogs."

59. Interview with William S. Abbott, 25 February 1999.

60. Letter, Simonson to Willham, 16 July 1954, Presidents' Papers Box 48, folder 20 (Coll. No. 70‑005), OSU Library.

61. Philip Reed, Oklahoma State University Since 1890  (Stillwater: OSU Press, 1975), 299; letter, Willham to Luther Brannon, 1 February 1956, File Folder "Ethiopian College, 1950‑1965" in "The OSU Collection," OSU Library.

62. Kamm, The First Hundred Years, 151.

63. Ibid., 69, 153.

64. Terminal Report, 50‑51; Gill, 28‑30.

65. Ibid., 41‑43.

66. Terminal Report, Appendix F.

67. Stanley Andrews, "Technical Assistance Case Reports: Selected Projects in Nine Countries," Office of the Dean of International Programs, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 26 April 1961, p. 17.

68. "Emperor Selassie Greets Peace Corps," New York Times, 22 September 1962, 8. Peace Corps Volunteers again worked in Ethiopia during the 1990s, but the program was terminated when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998. At a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps, on 28 February 2001, OSU was recognized by the Peace Corps for "being the top producer [of Peace Corps Volunteers] in the state with 405 former students" having served in the organization.

69. A photograph of the plaque is in Terminal Report, 52.

70. "Haile to Accept Award," Stillwater News‑Press, 24 May 1970, 5.

71. Alemaya University of Agriculture Records Office, 1999.

72. Program, "Oklahoma State University Announces the School of International Studies Dedication, March 31‑April 1, 1999."

73. Spencer, 153, 154, 268. By 1970, Ethiopia had received some 60% of U.S. military aid to the whole of Africa.

74. Richard Greenfield, Ethiopia: A New Political History  (London: Pall Mall Press, 1965), 375‑452; Marcus, 116‑ 169.

75. Mary Anne Weaver, "Burying the Martyrs: Annals of Political Terror," The New Yorker 68: (28 December 1992), 106. Taffara Deguefe, who was Governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia in the early 1970s, disputes Weaver's description of the Emperor wearing a field marshall's uniform while imprisoned. Taffara twice saw the Emperor under detention wearing "a simple grey suit, with no tie." Letter, Taffara Deguefe to Vestal, 30 July 2000. 76.Greenfield, 397‑398.

77. Prince Selassie of Ethiopia Dies," New York Times, 25 April 1962, 39.

78. Spencer, 340; Weaver, op. cit.

79. Chris Prouty and Eugene Rosenfeld, Historical Dictionary  of Ethiopia and Eritrea (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994), 18.

80. Ibid., 107‑108.

81. Ibid., 314‑315.

82. Greenfield, 430, 440; Marcus, 155‑156, 166.

83. John H. Spencer, Ethiopia at Bay (Algonac, Mich.: Reference Publications, 1984). Today, Spencer is viewed as a distinguished foreign elder statesman by Ethiopians.

84. See generally, Theodore M. Vestal, Ethiopia: A Post‑Cold  War African State (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999).