a1 Miami University
This essay examines the 1903 U.S. diplomatic mission to Ethiopia, which offers an unusual perspective on racial attitudes in the Progressive Era. Desirous of exploring new trade possibilities, the Theodore Roosevelt administration sent Robert P. Skinner to Addis Ababa to sign a reciprocity treaty with Emperor Menelik II. The timing of the mission had much to do with Roosevelt's global interests, but it happened to occur at a critical point for Ethiopia, which had recently thwarted an attempted Italian invasion. This victory delighted African Americans, especially those with a pan-Africanist perspective. Black Americans had long identified with the idea of Ethiopia, but they now identified with the actual nation and its leader. Black writers argued that the Ethiopians had triumphed over modern racism when they triumphed over the Italians. Those involved in Skinner's trip had a different view of the racial implications of Ethiopia's success. To them, the victory was that of a Semitic people whose triumphs were less startling. When talking about Ethiopia, black and white American observers revealed more about their own preconceptions and hopes than about the country to which the United States was making overtures.
Amanda Kay McVety is an assistant professor of history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She researches American involvement in the Horn of Africa and the use of foreign aid as a tool of foreign policy. Her first book, Enlightened Aid, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.
1 The author wishes to extend a note of gratitude to Alexandra Nicholis and Mandy Altimus Pond of the Massillon Museum in Massillon, Ohio, for their invaluable assistance with this project. She would also like to thank her anonymous readers and Alan Lessoff.