"...ETHIOPIA SHALL SOON STRETCH OUT HER HANDS TO GOD."
From 110th to 140th Street, Seventh Avenue on this pleasant Sunday afternoon was a grandly tumultuous parade ground. The animated crowds pushed over the jammed sidewalks into the street. Every stoop was pre-empted by eager groups of youngsters struggling to hold their places and warding off newcomers. Above, the tri-color green-yellow-red of Ethiopia blazoned from many windows. Streamers were thrown at the marchers and confetti fluttered in the air like
colored moths. With bands and banners and pompous feet the procession undulated along the avenue. There were Elks and Masons and other fraternal orders, political and religious organizations, social clubs and study clubs—the Ethiopian Students Class, the African Historical Society, the Senegambian Scouts, Ladies' Auxiliaries, children's groups. At intervals resounding claps rewarded some section which attracted special attention by a piece of meretricious music or movement. Near the corner where the procession went down a side street to the church, a huge banner floated over the avenue, bearing the motto: WELCOME TO THE PRINCE OF ETHIOPIA: ENVOY OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY.
As the tail of the march trailed by, the official cars followed at a slow pace. There were three of them, each carrying the Ethiopian flag and the Stars and Stripes. In the first two cars there were the notables of Harlem; in the third the Ethiopian envoy, a slight olive-colored youth with large calf's eyes. The people applauded, clapping, whistling and shouting "God Save Ethiopia!"
But as the cars rolled down to the church, from far down the avenue came the echo of a mighty roar. The noise became tumultuous as it surged up the street. "Hey! Hey! Hey! Rey! Rey! Rey!" It was borne along by a bigger crowd escorting an open automobile in which stood a full-sized ebon-hued man, bedecked in a uniform so rare, so gorgeous, it made the people prance and shout with joy. "R-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-y!" The shouting rose to its highest point like the
furious sounding of a thousand bagpipes, like a paddock full of horses wildly neighing, like the exuberant flourish of a parade of kettledrums.
The lone personage wore a mailed shirt extravagantly covered with golden gleaming arabesques and a wonderfully high shako, white and surmounted by a variegated cluster of ostrich plumes. With his right hand held at salute he smiled triumphantly, almost roguishly.
Responding to the thunderous salvos of acclaim, the throng that could not be accommodated in the huge church surged up from the side street to meet the new multitude of the avenue. Thrilled by the tumultuous spectacle, suddenly the saluting dignitary unsheathed his sword and brandished it at heaven. The mass roared in a frenzy while slowly the car threaded through, turning down the side street to the church.
The people wondered. Who was the richly bedecked apparition? The ignorant said it was the prince envoy. But others more informed said the envoy had already passed and entered the church with the notables. It was the military aide of the envoy, someone suggested, and the gossip rustled like a wind-blown leaf from mouth to mouth.
Inside the immense church the vast audience was startled by the tremendous uproar. The choir had sung the Ethiopian anthem, and stirred by the tumult, which penetrated and filled the church, the audience was restless. Up on the platform sat the dignitaries with the young envoy in the midst of them. They were whispering to one another about the cause of the heightened prolonged cheering, when suddenly they were amazed by the dramatic entrance of the man in uniform. The audience turned and saw him like a medieval knight framed in the portal and it rose with one accord and cheered. The envoy in formal clothes distinguished only by a red slash aslant his breast had not elicited anything approaching this warm welcome extended to the military personage.
The chairman of the meeting thought at once that the uninvited notable could not be left unnoticed there among the audience. Besides, he stood there smiling, saluting as if waiting for official recognition. So after hurriedly whispering with a colleague, the chairman dispatched the chief usher to bring the soldier to the platform. Applause pursued him as he marched elegantly, deliberately down the aisle and ascended the platform. There he saluted and bowed to the audience, shook hands with the chairman and took the introduction to the envoy with a deferential bow.
"Professor Koazhy!" The envoy repeated the name in a low tone, his wide eyes in wonder surveying the uniform. So he was not really a military man, but had thus adorned himself in honor of the occasion, the envoy thought. But he had pleased the crowds, and had been rewarded with an ovation greater than was given to him, the official representative of Ethiopia. Perhaps he too should have worn a uniform, as Pablo Peixota, the chairman, had suggested. But he did not like uniforms and rarely wore one, unless he was attending a state function, and nothing he might have worn could compare with the resplendent splendor of Professor Koazhy's accoutrement. But why did Professor Koazhy choose to wear this barbaric fantastic costume, which was not symbolic of the new spirit of Ethiopia? And how puzzling that that uniform had made such a powerful appeal to the senses of the crowd. For these people were not anything like the tribal Ethiopians, the envoy thought; they were more like European crowds. From the quaint and fanciful accounts he had read, from things he had heard, he had imagined a very different kind of people. These Aframericans—
Meanwhile, Chairman Pablo Peixota was calling the great meeting to order. He spoke through a megaphone. Briefly he said that the purpose of the meeting was firstly to give aid to Ethiopia and secondly to welcome the representative of the Emperor. He said Ethiopia was a Holy Land to all Aframericans, that afternoon's glorious demonstration was a proof of their interest. Ethiopia was the ancient lamp of Africa, which should not be extinguished. The Aframerican people had pledged themselves to help keep that lamp burning. They were collecting the funds and sending medical aid. The Emperor of Ethiopia had condescended to send a representative as a token of his goodwill and to give encouragement and inspiration to the efforts of the Aframericans. "Let us show to him the things that we can do and will do. Let us begin in a big way this afternoon."
The chairman spoke efficiently but not brilliantly. He was precise, as if he were reading from a manuscript. Next he called upon the minister of the church, the Reverend Zebulon Trawl, to say a prayer for Ethiopia. The minister was of about the same complexion as the envoy, but more heavily built. He prayed rhythmically for Ethiopia, the Emperor and his family, his advisers, his generals and the armies, the confounding of their enemies, the restoration of peace to the land. And lastly he prayed for Aframericans, dropping down to a colloquial and dithyrambic note: "Get busy and do your stuff, brothers and sisters. Begin today, start right now, put your hands in your pockets and not for nothing, bring it up, bring it out, get under your pillow, open the jars in your cupboards, open up the old family Bible where you have some bills pressed down like faded flowers, pennies and nickels and dimes, bring them in for the defense of Ethiopia. The Emperor has honored us here in America, sending to us his personal personable representative." He turned to the envoy. "Never before have our people been honored in such a grand manner. Let us show ourselves worthy of that honor. Mohammed he went to the mountain, and Ethiopia has come to us, to you and to me, to each one of us. Oh, my brothers and sisters, Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands to God."
Many voices responded: "God, God! Amen, Amen!"
The chairman said he would ask each speaker to be brief, as the long parade had delayed the beginning of the meeting. There were seven speakers besides the envoy: another outstanding preacher, a prominent doctor, a high official of a popular fraternal order, a leader of the Back-to-Africa movement, a university professor, a woman representing the Colored Women's Clubs and a representative of the White Friends of Ethiopia.
At last the young envoy, Lij Tekla Alamaya, was announced. He stepped nimbly forward, bowing to the chairman and the other speakers, and was greeted with prolonged cheering. He thanked the people for the warm welcome they had extended to him, as a representative of the Emperor and the people of Ethiopia. He stressed the gratitude of the Ethiopians for Aframerican sympathy and help. He told of the valor of the armies in the field, but that they were fighting a modern war without modern arms. They needed artillery and machine guns, warplanes and armored trucks, uniforms and shoes, medical supplies and doctors and nurses.
He described Ethiopia as a land-locked nation unable to communicate with the outside world, except across the territory of hostile or inhospitable nations. But nevertheless the people were courageous and brave as ever, jealous of their great traditions and guarding their ancient faith, the same Christian faith of Aframericans, which had inspired them to rise up and demonstrate to defend Ethiopia as they had today. "I am nothing but the humble servant of my Emperor who has sent me to you in the name of his people. I have come to give you all the information you require about Ethiopia, the Emperor and the Imperial Family and the Imperial Army. Things that are strange and incomprehensible to you, I shall endeavor to make clear. We thank you from our hearts for all the help that you have extended to us. Oh, we need all the help that you have pledged and much more, for the enemy is strong and cunning. My Emperor sent me to you as his humble servant and now I am also your humble servant."
Lij Alamaya won a fine ovation. The sympathy of the audience was touched by his slight appealing figure and his rather quaint English which sounded as if he had learned most of it in school in a foreign country. But as the applause died down there were shouts of "Professor Koazhy! Professor Koazhy!" "Let's hear Professor Koazhy." The entire audience voiced the demand and waited expectantly.
The chairman could not do less than present the gentleman in his uniformed splendor. And the roar of applause that exploded when he stood up was visibly disconcerting to the notables on the platform. It was greater than they all had received, including the envoy, and it was not funny.
Proudly stepping forward amidst the wild plaudits of the audience, and posing erectly—elated to be so signally honored, although he had not been one of the notables invited to participate—he was a perfect picture of triumph. Who else could have conceived and executed his inimitable performance?
Professor Koazhy clicked his heels, saluted, paid his respect to Lij Alamaya and the chairman and spoke in a deep kind of preacher's voice. "Some of you here know who I am," he declared, "but I know that the majority are applauding this uniform. That is as it should be. For I did not wear this uniform for merely a gaudy show. I put it on for a purpose—a special purpose. This is the uniform of an Ethiopian warrior. I went through all the trouble and expense of procuring it so that you should have a dramatic idea of why you are gathered here. In this uniform I want you not to see me, but the
great warriors of Ethiopia. A long line of them who have fought and died so that their nation should live.
"Oh, my friends, this is a grand event. And it is a wonderful opportunity for me. Here in your midst in flesh and blood you have an Ethiopian—a Prince of Africa. I pray you, I implore you to realize the significance of it. I have given many years to the study and teaching of African history. The newspapers and the professors mocked me. Yet I am a college man and as good a professor as any of them. It was because I didn't study and teach African history the way they do it in the classrooms. I gave it to those who were hungry for it, the people who came and sat right down at my feet to get it. They said I was funny in the head, that I had an obsession, because I said that African history was as noble and great as European history. To them African history was just an unimportant chip off of European history.
"But I tell you, my friends, excited and exalted now about Ethiopia, if you knew African history, you would be better equipped to help Ethiopia. How many of you know anything about the real Ethiopia? I tell you, you are ignorant and not only you but the world is ignorant. I have just heard these learned speakers inform you that the kings of Ethiopia are descended from Solomon. I am sorry to correct them, but that is not true, my friends. The dynasty of Ethiopia is older than Solomon; it is older than the Bible.
"I must humbly apologise to our envoy and prince, but even the Ethiopians themselves today do not know their great history. They imagine that their Emperor is the Lion of Judah because he was descended from the Queen of Sheba. But that is history turned upside down. The Emperor of Ethiopia is the Lion of Judah because many centuries ago the Empire of Ethiopia extended to Egypt across Judea into Persia and India. You must know the truth and Professor Koazhy is here to teach you.
"You complain and whine about the white man's attitude towards you. I will forgive the white man for all the wrong he has done the black. I will forgive him because the white man has done one good and great thing. The white man has given the black man knowledge, and that is the greatest gift that one man can give another. Take that knowledge and learn from it. Learn about the past as it relates to you and use it to do something about the present. What you should
know about yourself is the white man's gift to you. They wrote the truth but they cannot open your blind eyes to see it or make your minds understand. Herodotus, Volney, Champollion, Moret, Budge, Littmann, Frobenius, and a hundred more.
"What you all should know is also what the Ethiopians should know about themselves. Then they will fight better and you will help more." Professor Koazhy unsheathed the sword and held it up and said: "A sword in the hands of an ignorant man is a dangerous weapon that may destroy him. Knowledge is available. Get it. Learn, learn, and learn more."
Professor Koazhy ended with a prancing flourish of his body and the crowd wildly clacked its approval. He was a major showman, yet with all his vanity and bizarreness, there was no hint of the spirit of clowning in him. After that strenuous procrastinating parade, and the taxing ceremony of the introduction of the envoy to the people, Professor Koazhy still held them under his spell. They were reluctant to leave the building. Again holding up his sword as a
signal he cried: "Wait! If you like what I have said, if it means anything to you, I want you to prove it. If I have enlightened you any about Ethiopia, then I want you to give more to the Cause of Ethiopia. At least I want one person in this audience to bring twenty-five dollars and come and shake hands with me." One man who was about to leave pushed his way back in and went to the platform, handing twenty-five dollars over. He was followed by two others.
Professor Koazhy stood them together and said: "Now if there are three persons who can give twenty-five dollars there must be one in this crowd who can give fifty." A middle-aged woman, a schoolteacher, held up a cheque-book and came forward to write a cheque for fifty dollars. She received a signal ovation. The excitement was contagious and the audience was drawn close together like a big family gathering with sugared comments and murmurs of approval. The atmosphere of the church was eager and sensuous like an African bazaar.
Chairman Peixota jumped up and declared: "Since woman is the inspiration of man, I will pair with the lady by offering my cheque for a hundred dollars." Bowing he shook hands with the schoolteacher and as the audience appropriately acknowledged this pretty play of gallantry, Professor Koazhy flourished his sword and cried: "And now
all of us together again. Come along with the little pieces of money, dollars and quarters and dimes. Little things make big things. Individually we are a poor people but collectively we're richer than we imagine. Come on, a little more sacrifice, one more effort to help a valiant nation. You gave before you heard the envoy. Now show your appreciation again by giving after you have heard him."
Many in the audience were standing; they were motioned to sit down. The ushers went down the aisles with the plates. The people responded generously with the little pieces of money. And the Koazhy appeal brought in twice as much money as was previously collected. He was cordially thanked by Chairman Peixota.
Professor Koazhy's extravagant injection of himself into the ceremony of welcoming the envoy and focusing the greatest attention upon himself was at first extremely irritating to Chairman Peixota and the rest of the Hands to Ethiopia committee. But the wonderful enthusiasm the man had stirred up, coupled with the incidental raising of an unexpected large sum of money, had mitigated the harsh feeling against him. Pablo Peixota was above all a business man and the main purpose of the committee was to raise funds for the aid of Ethiopia. Koazhy was exalted by his triumphant intrusion. Greater than he had expected it to be when he planned the coup, for he had even eclipsed the envoy. He chuckled over his success as he drove home to divest himself of his uniform: "Why, they have no imagination at all, no real insight into the mind of their own people. Putting on a show like that without a first-rate actor. Why, if I had the management of it I would have hauled in five times as much money."
Professor Koazhy was one of the most curious of the local illuminati. He was a notorious authority on native African history. He was a graduate of a Southern institute and had taken post-graduate work at a famous New England institution. For some years he was a teacher in the Deep South. From that he switched to the Baptist ministry. Becoming a little too involved in the profaner side of life, he retired from the pulpit, returned to the North, and during the first World War earned high wages working at the mechanic's trade which he had acquired at the Southern institute.
Since then he had resided in New York, living a largely intellectual life, chiefly devoted to African studies, ancient and modern. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of African fetishism and prided himself on being a pagan. And he was the historical mentor of a group calling itself the Senegambians. His Christian name was Matthew—Matthew Preston— but he had changed it to Koazhy after his absorption in African fetishism. Koazhy was his version of Quashie, which he
pronounced "Kwà-zée." He insisted that African names often sounded ridiculous to Aframerican ears because they were pronounced badly and written wrongly. And so he had turned Quashie into Koazhy and prefaced it with "Professor."
THE PEIXOTA HOME
Lij Tekla Alamaya of Ethiopia did not share the chagrin of the Harlem Reception Committee over Professor Koazhy's outshining him and taking the major portion of the acclaim that would have been fitting for the King of Kings himself. His mind was more occupied in an endeavor to appraise the grand spectacle. Professor Koazhy, despite his primitive joy in extravagantly exhibiting himself, seemed to Lij Alamaya to be a serious and extraordinarily well-informed man. He had made apparently authoritative and profound statements about Ethiopia of which, he, the Lij himself, was ignorant. The Lij was not much of a student of history, not even Ethiopian history. And now he felt that it was incumbent upon him to open his mind to study more. The religious exuberance, the fermenting emotional élan of the Aframericans in their manifestation for Ethiopia, was strange and perplexing to him. Yet it was sincere, Lij Alamaya believed. He had felt its warmth like the heat of the African sun, so different from the pale and tepid European expressions of goodwill and sympathy for his people. He craved and prayed for a real understanding of these Aframericans, so that his mission might be crowned with success.
Lij Alamaya resided in a downtown hotel. But he was a special guest in Harlem, where his headquarters was established in the residence of Pablo Peixota, chairman of the Hands to Ethiopia, in 138th Street. He was treated as a royal guest. The entire first floor of the Peixota residence was placed at the envoy's disposal and served the purpose of reception room and office. The arms of Ethiopia, with the symbol of the lion carrying a cross, was affixed to the street
door of the house, a green canopy extended from the entrance to the curb and under its full length was unrolled a red carpet. Peixota insisted upon according his guest all the respect and dignity of an imperial envoy. He wanted the envoy's visit and contemplated tour to pass off without drawing the ridicule of the powerful white world. And for that reason he had at first regretted the irruption of Professor Koazhy and his fantastic exhibition, even though his resentment was softened by the extra avalanche of dollars.
Lij Alamaya had arrived prepared for simplicity and the democratic way of doing things. He had experienced enough of the routine of ceremony abroad, and here in America, he felt, there was a chance of escape; he would be taking a holiday away from it. And he had thought that of all Americans, the Aframericans would be less interested in the formalities of titles and courts. Evidently he was not conversant with the pomp and splendor of titles and uniforms that glittered in Harlem in the heyday of the Pan-African movement.
That same evening Chairman Peixota had invited some of his colleagues to dinner in order that they should become more closely acquainted with Lij Alamaya and plan immediate work for the organization. Peixota possessed the executive ability of a steam drill. And he was planning a campaign to raise funds for the organization. Alamaya's schedule was planned for him to meet a number of important persons in the vestry of the church. But the prolongation of the ceremony had caused Peixota to cancel this arrangement in order that he should rest before dinner.
The dinner was served in the large basement dining room. Those present were the Rev. Zebulon Trawl and Mrs. Trawl; the Hands to Ethiopia secretary, schoolteacher Newton Castle; Elks Official and Chief Scout William Headley; Second Scout Professor Dorsey Flagg of one of the Aframerican universities; Dr. Phineas Bell of Harlem Hospital and Mrs. Bell; Libby Brace, a nurse of Lincoln Hospital; and Mrs. Leah Arzell of the Colored Women's Clubs, tentative head of
the Women's Division of the Hands to Ethiopia. In addition there were the members of the household, the hostess, Kezia Peixota, and her daughter, Seraphine.
Kezia Peixota was an efficient housekeeper. Not nearly as enthusiastic as her doughty husband over the defense of Ethiopia and the issues involved, she was nevertheless his reliable helper where the household was concerned. She was a haughty-looking woman and very conscious of the fact that she was the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Harlem.
The guests were assembled in Lij Alamaya's reception room, where they had drinks: whiskey and soda and imported sherry. The amazing mass meeting was naturally the chief thing talked about. "I think that that Professor Koazhy is a bad actor and something should be done about him," said Mrs. Leah Arzell.
"I would say he is an excellent actor," said Peixota. "His stunt brought us a lot of money. At first I was disgusted when he popped in like a man from Mars bringing all that bedlam with him. But he dominated that mighty crowd and that's a big achievement."
Leaning against the grand piano and tossing down a double drink of straight whiskey, Professor Dorsey Flagg said: "The trouble with a man like that is that he wants to be a modern scholar as well as an African medicine-man and he gets all tangled up in a crazy jumble of information. I can't see where he is helping our people with such antics. He's just a burlesque of an unconvincing pedant."
Lij Alamaya said quietly that he thought Professor Koazhy was amazingly convincing.
"You don't mean
that, do you?" Mrs. Castle injected her affectedly husky voice. "Today's demonstration was a big build-up for you and Koazhy spoiled the effect of it with his jungle burlesque. He looked so much like one of those hideous African masks in which some white people profess to see a new art."
"If you care to have my opinion," said William Headley, "I think Professor Koazhy's part was anything but a burlesque. And he couldn't take away any worthwhile thing from the stature of Prince Alamaya, even if some of the crowd thought he was the Prince. I think he was a mighty big help to your meeting.
This excerpt from Ice is from the Penguin Classics paperback edition.