1820: First African American Settlement
The history of the Republic of Liberia is unique in terms of the creation of its state its history the relation it has to Africans of the Diaspora and the free slaves of the America migrating back to the shores of Africa. The creation of Liberia started with the American colonization Society (ACS) also known as the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America, which was established for Free Men of Color, a Private Society, that established settlements in West Africa from 1821 onwards for the settlement of ‘Free Slaves’, several states of the United States at the time had established colonies of freed slaves in West Africa, particularly in Liberia as well in places such as Sierra Leone. The American Colonization Society was the most successful. The group was established in 1816 by Robert Finley of New Jersey to encourage and support the migrations of free African Americans to the continent. There were large migrations of Yamasee, Creek and Africans enslave tribes from the southeastern area of the Creek Nation territories particularly from the Chattahoochee Valleys of these areas. In between 1853 and 1903 more than 500 Africans enslaved in America and Indigenous peoples mixed in with these African slaves, began to run away from the abuses such as racism and left the Chattahoochee Valley and parts of Alabama, and the Creek nation territory after ex-President Andrew forced removal, the solution to them was to start new lives in the West African Republic. Most whites believed that the ACS would benefit the African enslaved freemen by giving them opportunities in Africa that they wouldn’t have otherwise received in the U.S.
Pepper Coast or Grain Coast named by European Settlers
Lands now called Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast
One place that the society helped found settlements was a place becoming known as Pepper Coast of West Africa because of the importance of the spice in the coast. The choice reason Liberia was chosen was the location itself, it was closest place in Africa and inexpensive to travel back there because of its location. Between the years of 1820 and 1843 there were approximately 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia. Amongst other societies that participated in the settlements was the Mississippi Colonization Society which also settled on Pepper Coast, some 300 former slaves from Prospect Hill Plantation owned by Isaac Ross having properties in Jefferson County, Mississippi, this was the largest single group of emigrants to settle in the new colony. The mixed freed indigenous and African slaves were blood related to the Yamasee and Muscogee tribes of the southeastern areas who were of the largest population of Africans of the diaspora decided to settle in West Africa. These settlements eventually became a part of the new nation, the Mississippi in Africa settlement was annexed Liberia in 1842 along with other colonization country settlements, such as Kentucky in Africa and the Republic of Maryland which was settled by African American slaves and freeborn African from these states in the U.S. Though there was millions of Africans enslaved in the United States the colonization society only transported a few thousand free blacks back to Africa, among them was Joseph J. Roberts who became the first and seventh President of Liberia an Americo-Liberian who emigrated to Liberia in 1829, there he became a noted politician. Born free in Norfolk, Virginia, he emigrated as a young man with his mother’s siblings, wife and child to the young West African Colony.
The First President of The Republic of Liberia:
Joseph J. Roberts
The Society had major supporters of the slaveholding population as the fear of uprisings and rebellions was a constant threat to the white slaveholding populous a large percentage encouraged the returning of Africans from which they came, coining the statement ‘Return to the Continent you Came From, where Everyone is Black’. They wanted to get rid of the free blacks as they were a threat to the remaining African slaves who yearned of freedom themselves. The most influential of the supporters were United States Presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe of which the capitol city of Liberia, Monrovia was named after and James Madison who also served as the Society’s president in the early 1830’s.
The Republic of Liberia was proclaimed itself as an independent state on July 26th, 1847, though it was recognized by Great Britain, France and other European States the United States delayed recognition until 1862. Despite any internal differences and problems financial, Liberia never became a colony of any other State. The United States had no intention of becoming its protectorate it was of the ‘jealous concern that full respect should be paid to the independent and sovereign place of Liberia within the family of Nations.’ Liberia was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles, and an original Member of both the League of Nations and the United Nations, subject to all international laws of all community of States. The country official seal proclaims boldly on a pictograph of a ship coming to shore: ‘The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.’
As time passed on the separation between the native indigenous and freed slave became less apparent and this new group became known as ‘Congos’ or ‘Americo-Liberians’. The unequal distribution of power and wealth resulting from this early Liberian social structure has been largely at the center of the conflicts that has occurred throughout its history.
From the first president of Liberia to William Tubman and his successor William Tolbert all of them were considered Americo-Liberians and members of the True Whig party ruling Liberia all but six years. Tubman came into power in 1945 and his regime was incased with single-party chauvinism, it was considered a party of a modern form of dictatorship. Though Tubman sought to increase political participation of the majority non-America Liberian populace, it had very little affect upon the indigenous as they never felt within the governance a true voice, not feeling free to express themselves of questions and issues that affected them directly especially within the leadership of solutions over the years to solve these decades old political disparities.
1900: Back to Liberia Movements
When Marcus Garvey in founding the UNIA in 1914 emphasized the unity of Africans and Africans of the Diaspora, campaigning against colonial rule many leaders knew of the importance of this principle of love and unity for one another by the acceptance of ourselves and the greatness of our race by the evidence of the marvels of the continent in which all of life has been born. In the early 19th century there was an increase in the United State African American population, many being freed became increasingly agitated at the current conditions that they had been placed in. Many on both sides did not believe that free Africans had a place in their system and many ways they were right. The northern whites feared they would lose jobs to them and the southern whites feared integration. Marcus Garvey solution was to return to Africa through the Republic of Liberia. His movement gathered supporters globally with over four million members worldwide he was able to purchase its first ship the S.S. Yarmouth and renamed it the S.S. Frederick Douglass. The company began its ‘African Redemption’ Liberia program with the continuation of the idea of returning to Africa through Liberia. With the creation of the ‘Black Star Line’ shipping line he was able to facilitate the transportation of goods to Liberia and eventually African Americans back to the continent.
1980: End of Americo-Liberian 133 year rule
Liberia began to change during the 1970s. In 1971, William Tubman, Liberia’s president of 27 years, died while in office. Tubman’s “Open Door” economic policy brought a great deal of foreign investment at heavy price, as the divide widened between the prospering Americo-Liberians (benefiting from such investment) and the rest of the population. Following Tubman’s death, his long-serving vice president, William Tolbert, assumed the presidency.
William Tolbert the 20th President of Liberia
Because Tolbert was a member of one the most influential and affluent Americo-Liberian families, everything from cabinet appointments to economic policy was to the population centered around ‘nepotism’. Tolbert was also the first president to speak an indigenous language, and he promoted a program to bring more indigenous persons into the government. Unfortunately, this initiative lacked support within Tolbert’s own administration, and while the majority felt the change was occurring too slowly, many Americo-Liberians felt it was too rapid. In April 1979, a proposal to raise the price of rice (which the Tolbert administration subsidized) met with violent opposition. Tolbert’s family member held majority of rice shares the practice of nepotism was normal place within the bulk of governing years. The government claimed that the price increase was meant to promote more local farming, slow the rate of urban migration, and reduce dependence on imported rice. However, opposition leaders also pointed out that the Tolbert family controlled the rice monopoly in Liberia and therefore stood to prosper. The ensuing “rice riots” severely damaged Tolbert’s credibility and increased the administration’s vulnerability. In April 1980, Army Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, an ethnic Krahn, led a coup d’état with an army of minority Krahns that resulted in Tolbert’s murder and the public execution of 13 of his cabinet members. Among the many Liberians that fled the country was then–Minister of Finance, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, eventually she returned to run for President after the elected President Charles Taylor.
2019: Africa’s Diaspora and the Rekindled Liberian Relationship
The rekindling of the relationship between the Republic of Liberia and the African Diaspora community was never an easy task. There has always existed a concentrated effort to severe the intimate relationship that ties us by blood and bond. When one stands at the apex in central Monrovia, Liberia’s capital one can see why the country used to be a beacon of light for the continent of Africa and its Diaspora. With its beautiful scenery, the loss and destruction from the countries 15-year war is evident in its steep recovery of its decimated economic institutions and tragedies of political upheavals. Despite these tragedies’ diaspora Africans such as Paul Cuffe, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey, W.E. Dubois and in this day and time by far the most influential is Liberian Diplomat Dr. Malachi Z. K. York has always sought to maintain a firm relationship with the continent overstanding that the unity of our collective ideas for progress is key to our success in the future of our peoples as a whole. After years of instability Liberia’s fate of promise was discovered in the 1990’s by working with Dr. Malachi York and his unique ability to unify the many bloodlines of families and tribes of Africans of the Diaspora, Liberia and throughout west Africa.
H.E. Dr. Malachi Z. K. York
Liberian Diplomat/Consul General and Ghanaian National
‘Return Home to Africa’ has rekindled the dream that was once thought to have been deterred and discouraged by the internal issues that some of west African countries have faced. But Africa has always been a shining light in the face of adversity has been able to pull through some of the most trying times. It is the hopes that Africans of the diaspora upon their return home consider Liberia as a land of promise and hope, having the spirit of Liberty that brought us there to relocate and build in a country founded by the very same principles that the great leaders of the past and present has edified. Visit Liberia on ReturnHomeAfrica.com and see what opportunities await you.