Ethiopia RPCV Doug Mickelson remembers Harris Wofford & Emperor Haile Selassie

 

Doug Mickelson – 1962

Doug Mickelson (Ethiopia 1962–64), from Black Earth, Wisconsin, wrote me recently about Harris Wofford to tell me about photographs he had of Harris Wofford when the first group of PCVs to Ethiopia arrived there in the fall of 1962, and of his trip back to Ethiopia with his wife, years later.

“Harris visited us in Yirgalem, Ethiopia, where I was stationed,” Doug recalled, “several times during Fall, 1963 and early 1964.  This photo is of me and Harris leaning against our famous blue jeep speaking with students at our school, Ras Desta.  Harris was very interested to hear about what we were doing directly from the students.  He was very engaging and the students flocked to him.

“This picture also appeared in Gerald T. Rice’s book, The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. The photo means a lot to me, especially with Harris’ passing.

“I have three other photographs of Harris, this time at the early September 1962 reception at the Palace with Haile Selassie just before we moved to our teaching site in Yirgalem. Our whole group of some 280 PCVs were  invited to the Jubilee Palace for a welcome reception.  We were given a tour of the Palace and then led to the receiving room.  His Majesty gave a short speech and then asked each of us to come forward, introduce ourselves, shake his hand, and state where we would be assigned.  He took a personal interest in each of us.  It was a powerful moment to make such an historical figure.  To me, it was like stepping into a history book. I had read about Ethiopia, the Italian invasion, and Haile Selassie’ speech to the League of Nations.  This was a memorable event.  I understand Harris made this event happen.

Clare and Harris Wofford speaking with His Majesty Haile Selassie at the Peace Corps reception

“In 2016, on my return trip to Ethiopia with my wife, and on tour in the northern highlands, we had an Ethiopian guard accompany us.  He was somewhat elderly and was an admirer of the Emperor.  I extended the hand I had used to shake Haile Selassie’s hand, and said Haile Selassie passes from the hand that shook the emperor’s hand to him. He was overjoyed.  It was an exciting experience. And Harris Wofford was the one who was more responsible for making it possible that all of us would meet the legendary Haile Selassie.”

Before Doug Mickelson and his wife left Ethiopia he went to the Peace Corps Office and gave them the photos he had taken in the Palace in the fall of 1962. Current Peace Corps CD Brannon Brewer (Moldova 1997-98) took the three photographs of Harris with the Emperor, had them enlarged and framed, and hung them in Peace Corps Headquarters. As Brannon wrote me, “I’m sure the post would love to have more, as the history provides perspective to current Volunteers and a sense of belonging to something much bigger than themselves.”

President Kennedy addressing PC trainees at the White House (including Ethiopia 1s)

 

Ethiopia PC staff greet first PCVs at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa.

 

Emperor Haile Selassie and Harris Wofford

 

 

 

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