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   Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday 24th February, 2003

HAILE SELASSIE

A banner for Haile Selassie
KING OF KINGS | A figurehead of African independence, but what are his West Midland's connections?

Hailed as the black Christ by many in the Rastafarian community and described as the ‘King of Kings, Lord of Lords’, Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, was also a visitor to Malvern.

Inside Out charts the remarkable history of ruler, Haile Selassie, from his Ethiopian empire to the rolling countryside of Malvern in the West Midlands.

Haile Selassie came to power in 1930 and his royal line can be traced back as far as King Solomon and The Queen of Sheba.

Haile Selassie in a royal procession
A royal welcome? Haile Selassie slotted quietly into Malvern life

He was viewed by many as the figurehead of African independence, whilst he became a central figure in the Rastafarian movement.

Benjamin Zephaniah tells us, "African people looked to Ethiopia for a black Christ and for many, Haile Selassie was they one they had been waiting for."

Royal connections

In 1936, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and the empire was crushed. Haile Selassie fled to England, first to London and then to Malvern. And it is here that Inside Out picks up the trail.

We sent Poet and Rastafarian, Benjamin Zephaniah, in search of Haile Selassie’s West Midlands legacy.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin unknowingly spent his summer holidays in a town with close connections to the emperor

A quick jaunt around the town of Malvern is revealing. It seems that few locals are aware of their town’s royal connections. However a tip off sends Benjamin to the Abbey Hotel and the very room where Haile Selassie stayed.

It is in the Winter Gardens, that Benjamin finds two Malvern locals for whom Haile Selassie is not such a distant memory.

Bridget remembers horse riding with his granddaughter Ruth, whilst Sally saw the man himself handing out prizes at speech day at the Winter Gardens.

Reflection

Haile Selassie

1892: Haile Selassie is born near Harar

1928: He ascends to the throne of Shoa

1930: He ascends to the imperial throne and is crowned emperor of Ethiopia

1936: Mussolini invades Ethiopia and Haile Selassie escapes to England

1941: he returns to Addis Ababa

1974: He is deposed by Mengistu

1975: Dies while in custody

For times of quite reflection and prayer, Haile Selassie could be found in Holy Trinity Church.

"He always rejected the view that he was the second Christ," explains the Reverend of Holy Trinity. "He always remained a Christian."

Haile Selassie may have been a Malvern local, yet his memory still appears a little vague and distance - but there is a place where his legacy lives on.

Legacy

Handsworth - the location of ‘The Peace Patrol’, a Rastafarian group that works in conjunction with the police, helping to bridge the divide.

Here, Haile Selassie’s beliefs and teachings are practised, as Peace Officer, Clive Asher explains:

"The youth of today are the men of tomorrow and his majesty has always stipulated that we must boost the education of the youths."

So whilst many of Malvern’s locals remain unaware of the town’s majestic past, there are a many other West Midlanders doing their utmost to ensure that Haile Selassie’s legacy is alive and kicking in Birmingham.

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Haile Selassie's funeral
Haile Selassie laid to rest

On the rest of the web
Haile Selassie
Time Europe: Haile Salassie
This is Malvern

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Mahlet
Haile Selase was a humanitarian and I am proud of his Legacy and as a part of my history.

Ras Jaajy
Any who may wish to profit himself alone from the knowledge given him rather than serve others through the knowledge he has gained from learning is betraying knowledge and rendering it worthless.

H.I.M Haile Selassie

michael henry
As a true heart rastafarian I was a little suprised to hear of H.I.M's time in Birmingham.

I knew of his time in Bath in the 1940's.

I find it intruiging that he came so close to my dwellings.

Him every inch a king despite the attempts of the media to tarnish his name. everything about the emperor paints a picture of a positive man who cared for his people.

Eddie Price
My name is Eddie Price and I now live in Malvern.

In 1944 I and 5 other Armament Staff Sergeants were posted to Malvern for a few weeks.

Walking on the hills one day we came across two young girls being troubled by a flock of sheep. They were very scared and Jack Marshall drove the sheep away.

We were most surprised to find that the girls were Haile Selasie' daughters.

ken ockenden
Check out the White Hart Hotel in Okehampton Devon. Haile Selassie stayed there for some time and there are some great photos in the lobby and corridors of the hotel.

Mary Mills
I know people who are connected to Haile Selassie's family in England and know Ruth Desta, his granddaughter, whose photo was on the programme.

She went to the Christian Girls Boarding school in Malvern which was run by my friend's aunt, and she was the guardian for Selasssie's grandddaughters.

Peter Gibson
As a youngster living in Newbridge Rd, Bath, Haile Selassie lived in a large estate about a quarter or maybe a half mile away from me.

I used to see him taking his animal (leopard, I think) for a walk on a lead. Thought you might be interested this.

Perhaps the area has changed since last I saw it (during the Second World War), but I'm sure I could now find it.

Mark Smith
Benjamin may already know about Wilfred Thesiger, featured by BBC radio 4 in the last year or so.

I have just read his autobiography - a boys-own old school adventurer who attended Emporer Haile Selassies coronation and was a personal friend. He is, I think still alive.

"The life of My Choice" is a fascinating read, evoking VERY differnet times.

John Tuer
I first came across this story by reading the book "An Idler on the Shropshire Borders" by Ida Gandy.

Haile Selassie's visit to Walcot Park in Shropshire is mentioned on Page 31. The question that arose in my mind was "Why Malverm and Why Shropshire ?"

Of all the places in the country, why did he choose this area in which to spend his exile.

I might have a part of the answer. There may be a connection here with the explorer Wilfred Thesiger who was born in Abyssinia and knew the Emperor personally.

In Michael Asher's biography of Thesiger he states that Thesiger did meet the Emperor in London when he arrived first in exile.

this would be an interesting avenue to explore especially as Wilfred Thesiger is still alive (I think) and might help if the BBC was to make contact with him. Thant's if you wanted to pursue this story further!



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