Mignon Lorraine Inniss was born on 19th November 1905 in Barbados. In the early twenties, she immigrated to New York City where she studied Business Administration at the Braithwaite School of Business. Here she met a group of Ethiopian dignitaries who were recruiting skilled African-Americans to help in Ethiopia’s development.
Mignon immigrated to Ethiopia with the first group led by Arnold J. Ford, an internationally known scholar and political advocate for the liberation of oppressed peoples throughout the world. Soon thereafter she married Ford. They had two children: Yosef and Abiyi. Arnold J. Ford died in 1935 and is buried in Ethiopia. Mignon remained in Ethiopia to continue the work started by her husband.
After Ethiopia regained her independence in 1941, Mrs. Ford and her godmother Albertha Thomas founded the first coeducational boarding school in the country, the “Beit Auriel School”. The school was later renamed the “Princess Zenebe Wroq School” (PZWS) in memory of the late daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie.
She designed and successfully implemented a well-rounded curriculum with a strong emphasis on the development of the student’s African identities and Ethiopia’s proper place in African and world history.
Mignon Inniss-Ford also co-founded and served on the Board of Directors of several Ethiopian organizations. She was the recipient of numerous awards including the Edward Wilmot Blyden award for Education Excellence in African Development from the African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA). She was later elected as an Elder to the AHSA Board of Directors. She also received an award from the Society of Ethiopian Established in Diaspora (SEED) for Excellence in African Education.
Mignon was a mother, teacher, sister and friend. She is addressed as Teacher Tilliqua (Great Teacher) within the Ethiopian community.
Mignon Lorraine Inniss-Ford died on 15th Jananuary 1995 at the Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She was buried in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with her husband. The inscription on her tomb reads:
To thee she was called by duty
With thee she toiled for liberty
With thine she cast her destiny
In thee she rests with dignity
Arnold Josiah Ford, who was also born in Barbados in 1876, was a composer, a musician, linguist and theologian. He was a member of the musical body of the British Royal Navy during the First World War. He arrived in Harlem after the war and became member of a Black Jewish congregation. Thanks to his exhaustive study of the Torah, the Talmud and the Hebrew language, he became a Rabbi.
Like many Caribbean immigrants and Black Jews, he got involved with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and became its musical director. He was also the co-author of the Ethiopian National Anthem.
In 1930, with members of his congregation and many musical instruments, he travelled to Ethiopia where he settled and lived the few remaining years of his life. He died in 1935 and is buried in Addis Ababa.
The Fords had two sons. Yosef was a cultural anthropologist a graduate from Columbia University. Yosef died in 2001. Abiyi, a well-known scholar of Media and Communication who worked at Howard University and Addis Ababa University. Abiyi founded the Mignon Lorraine Inness Ford Foundation to pursue the work of his mother. Like his father he is a talented musician.
Chronology – Different sources have different dates for some events.
- 23rd April 1876 Birth of Arnold Josiah Ford in Barbados to Edward Thomas Ford and Elizabeth Augustine Ford. (Some sources have his birth year as 1887)
- 19th November 1905 Birth of Mignon Lorraine Inniss in Barbados
- 1918 First version of the Ethiopian Universal Anthem
- 1920’s Mignon Inniss leaves Barbados for the USA
- 1930 Arnold J. Ford and Mignon Inniss arrive in Ethiopia. (Some sources have it as 1931)
- 16th September 1935 Arnold J. Ford passes away aged 59
- 1941 Mignon Inniss-Ford together with her God mother Albertha Thomass open the “Beit Auriel School” as the very first co-educational school in Ethiopia.
- 1943 At Emperor Haile Selassie request, the school is renamed the “Princess Zenebe Wroq School” in memory of his late daughter.
- 1974 “Princess Zenebe Worq School” is nationalised
- 15th January 1995 Mignon Inniss-Ford passes away. Buried with her husband in Ethiopia.
- 2001 Yosef Ford passes away.
- 2013 Full orchestra original version on production by Abiyi A. Ford
Thanks to Harriet Pierce of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society for giving me the leads to this important Barbadian.
Below is an archive video from teacherford.org (teacherford.org is no longer operational and was extracted via the Way Back Machine)
For reference here is some further information on Mignon Lorraine Inniss’ husband Arnold J. Ford: