Excerpts from ~ globalsecurity.org, africawithin.com, bbc.com, PBS, CBS, and other sources cited in text.
After the struggle for liberty in the American Revolution, free and enslaved African Americans faced continued hardship and inequality. A number of white Americans, for a variety of reasons, joined them in their efforts to resolve this complex problem. One possible solution (advocated at a time when the assimilation of free blacks into American society seemed out of the question) was the complete separation of white and black Americans. Some slave owners offered to emancipate their slaves provided that they
relocate to Liberia.
Some voices called for the return of all African Americans to the land of their fore bearers. Liberia, thus, became the convenient home of many African Americans. Some African American advocates voiced concern and objections to Liberia.
Liberia is a unique country in Africa. Liberia remains the only African country that has had a female Head of State and 12 of Liberia's Presidents were born in the USA.
The assimilation of two cultures - the one brought by the settlers from the United States and that of the indigenous people they met on the soil - has often left many pondering the true and actual culture of the Liberian people. The two groups have, however, been able to portray the joint cultures, albeit difficult for others to adopt.
Traditional practices, like the Masonic Craft of the settlers or the Poro/Sande societies of the natives, remain yet somewhat exclusive to their kind alone.The Vai and Bassa tribes had developed their own alphabets and written
languages before the arrival of the first settlers from the United States; however development of these written systems are only recently re-emerging.
Liberia was traditionally noted for its hospitality and academic institutions, iron mining and rubber industry booms, cultural skills and arts and craft works. But political upheavals beginning in the 1980s and the brutal civil war brought about a steep decline in the living standards of the country, including its education and infrastructure.
Liberia occupies 5,000 square miles of the 12,000,000 square miles of the entire continent of Africa.
During WWII Liberia was the main supplier of rubber for the Allied forces and a ground base for U.S. troops, Liberia sustained heavy shelling from German naval craft.(Watch FDR's visit to Liberia)
Access rights to Monrovia's port and airport given to the US is the only reliable gateway into West Africa and a staging area for supplies to anti-Soviet forces in Angola
LIBERIA'S EARLY BEGININGS
1200-1600 ~The inland rain forests of present day Liberia had been very sparsely populated until the first waves of peoples seeking refuge from the upheavals that affected the great Sudanic kingdoms on the upper Niger River began moving into the region, mainly from the north and east, between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although these kingdoms: Songhay, Ghana, and Mali extended their control into neighboring territories, none encompassed any part of present day Liberia. The arrival of new groups and their dispersal throughout the region continued into the early nineteenth century, when the first American settlers landed on the coast. In the competition for living space, the strong grew stronger and occupied the choice areas; the weak were either absorbed or driven into the deeper recesses of the rain forest.
Those who lived around the coast were mostly fishermen and farmers. Those who lived inland and along the rivers engaged in subsistence agriculture, but hunting and gathering was also a major activity. In the uplands, rice was cultivated and, in the dry savanna of the northwest, millet and sorghum were grown. Trade was conducted through Mandingo intermediaries, whose compounds were located near large village clusters. The Mandingo brought ivory, and forest products from the region to the caravan routes that crossed the savanna to the north, exchanging them for salt, cloth, tools, glass heads, and the cowrie shells that were used as currency.
Rolls of woven cotton strips were used as bride price or for trade and barter in Liberia
1833 one cent issued by the American colonization Society
(click for larger view)
During the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, ivory and melegueta pepper were the principal items of trade that interested European merchants. As a mark of the importance of the latter commodity to them, it was from the melegueta pepper that Liberia became known as the "Grain Coast".
By the seventeenth century, French, English, Danish, and Dutch traders had displaced the Portuguese along the Grain Coast, while slaves to supply the new plantations in the Americas had become by far the most important trade item. In 1663 England installed trading posts on the "Grain Coast", but the Dutch destroyed them a year later. There were no further reports of European settlements along the "Grain Coast."
Early Liberian tribes: Gola
Tribes immigrating around 6000 B.C.: Kpelle
Tribes immigrating from the Republic of Ivory Coast in the 1500s: Kru (Tajuasohn)
Muslim tribes immigrating from Sudan from the 1500s through 1600s: Vai
Immigrants from the 1800s: Americo-Liberians: Freed slaves and descendants of freed slaves from the US the Caribbean Congo people from the Congo River Basin who were captured for the slave trade but sent to Liberia when slavery was abolished without ever being exposed to non-African cultures.
1815- African-American Quaker and maritime entrepreneur Paul Cuffee (or Cuffe) financed and captained a successful voyage to Sierra Leone where he helped a small group of African-American immigrants establish themselves. Cuffee believed that African Americans could more easily "rise to be a people" in Africa than in America with its system of slavery and its legislated limits on black freedom. Cuffee also envisioned a black trade network organized by Westernized blacks who would return to Africa to develop its resources while educating its people in the skills they had gained during captivity. Cuffee died in 1817 without fully realizing his dream.
On December 21, 1816, a group of exclusively white upper-class males including James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster met at the Davis hotel in Washington D.C. with Henry Clay presiding over the meeting. They met one week later and adopted a constitution. During the next three years, the society raised money by selling membership using the certificates. The Society's members relentlessly pressured Congress and the President for support.
1817- The partial success of Paul Cuffee's African venture encouraged white proponents of colonization to form an organization to repatriate those free African Americans who would volunteer to settle in Africa. Prominent Americans such as Henry Clay, John Randolph of Roanoke, and Justice Bushrod Washington were members of the American Colonization Society (ACS) during its early years. Many free African-Americans, however, including those who had supported Paul Cuffee's efforts, were wary of this new organization. They were concerned that it was dominated by Southerners and slave holders and that it excluded blacks from membership. Most free African-Americans wanted to stay in the land they had helped to build. They planned to continue the struggle for equality and justice in the new nation.
In 1819, the ACS received $100,000 from Congress and in January 1820 the first ship, the Elizabeth, sail from New York headed for West Africa with three white ACS agents and 88 emigrants.
The ship arrive first at Freetown, Sierra Leone then sailed south to what is now the Northern coast of Liberia and made an effort to establish a settlement.
1820- The American Colonization Society sent its first group of immigrants to Sherbro Island in Sierra Leone. The island's swampy, unhealthy conditions resulted in a high death rate among the settlers as well as the society's representatives. The British governor allowed the immigrants to relocate to a safer area temporarily while the ACS worked to save its colonization project from complete disaster.
1821-The American Colonization Society (ACS) dispatched a representative, Dr. Eli Ayres, to purchase land farther north up the coast from Sierra Leone. With the aid of a U.S. naval officer, Lieutenant Robert F. Stockton, Ayres cruised the coastal waters west of Grand Bassa seeking out appropriate lands for the colony. Stockton took charge of the negotiations with leaders of the Dey and Bassa peoples who lived in the area of Cape Mesurado. At first, the local leaders were reluctant to surrender their peoples' land to the strangers, but were forcefully persuaded -- some accounts say at gun-point -- to part with a "36 mile long and 3 mile wide" strip of coastal land for trade goods, supplies, weapons, and rum worth approximately $300.
The Nautilus sailed twice in 1821 and established a settlement at Mesurado Bay on an island they named Perseverance.
1822 - April 25 - The survivors of Sherbro Island arrived at Cape Mesurado and began to build their settlement. With the wavering consent of the new immigrants, the American Colonization Society governed the colony through its representative. In time, however, some colonists objected strenuously to the authoritarian policies instituted by Jehudi Ashmun, a Methodist missionary who replaced Ayres as the ACS governing representative. Such disagreements created tensions within the struggling settlement.
1824 - Believing that the colonial agent had allocated town lots and rationed provisions unfairly, a few of the settlers armed themselves and forced the society's representative to flee the colony. The disagreements were resolved temporarily when an ACS representative came to investigate the colony's problems and persuaded Ashmun to return. Steps were initiated to spell out a system of local administration and to codify the laws. This resulted, a year later, in the Constitution, Government, and Digest of the Laws of Liberia. In this document, sovereign power continued to rest with the ACS's agent but the colony was to operate under common law. Slavery and participation in the slave trade were forbidden. The settlement that had been called Christopolis was renamed Monrovia after the American president, James Monroe, and the colony as a whole was formally called Liberia.
1827 - Slave states in North America, increasingly interested in getting rid of their free African-American populations, encouraged the formation of colonization societies. These groups organized themselves independently of the ACS and founded their own colonies in Liberia for transplanting free African-Americans. Some of the "volunteers" were emancipated only if they agreed to emigrate. The Maryland State Colonization Society established its colony in Cape Palmas, Liberia. Virginia and Mississippi also established Liberian colonies for former slaves and free blacks.
African Americans sought to create a "Black America". They brought their architecture and place names with them from America. Watch clip from PBS.
By 1830 2,638 African-Americans migrated to the area. The colony entered an agreement with the U.S. Government to accept freed slaves captured from slave ships.
1838- The colonies established by the Virginia Colonization Society, the Quaker Young Men's Colonization Society of Pennsylvania, and the American Colonization Society merged as the Commonwealth of Liberia and claimed control over all settlements between Cestos River and Cape Mount. The Commonwealth adopted a new constitution and a newly-appointed governor in 1839.
Former Virginian Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a trader and successful military commander, was named the first lieutenant governor and became the first African-American governor of the colony after the appointed governor died in office (1841).
Elijah Johnson (I)
Jehudi Ashmun (I)
Elijah Johnson (II)
Jehudi Ashmun (II)
Joseph Mechlin, Jr.
Anthony Williams (I)
Joseph Mechlin, Jr. (II)
Anthony Williams (II)
Joseph Jenkins Roberts
In 1842, Joseph Jenkins Roberts(1809-1876) became the first non-white governor of Liberia. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared itself an independent state, with J.J. Roberts elected as its first President. Roberts arrived in Liberia in 1829 from Virginia.
In 1839 Roberts was appointed Vice Colonial Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia and took over as Governor of the Commonwealth, in 1841, when Thomas Buchanan died. Roberts served as the first and seventh president of Liberia.
.J. Roberts fought for the recognition of Liberia by Europe and the United States. In 1849, Portugal, Brazil, Sardinia, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hamburg, Brenem, Lubeck, and Haiti all formally recognized Liberia.
Roberts was re-elected three more times to serve a total of eight years. During his leadership, the coastline was extended to over 600 miles and an institution of higher learning, later to become Liberia University, was established.
However, some black Americans did not believe that J. J. Roberts was doing anything noble for the Liberian people or the "black cause". This is evident in an excerpt of an article published by Martin Delany in "The North Star" (an 1849 newspaper):
ON LIBERIAN PRESIDENT J J ROBERTS
"A man whom the Colonizationists and shareholders in the United States extolled to the skies. . .
Like a slave, cap in hand, obediant to the commands of the dons who employ them, bidden on an errand of his master, President Roberts no sooner concludes the business of his mission, a knowledge and official account of which was alone due to his own government, but he writes to A. G. Phelps, a Colonizationist of the United States, giving him an official report of his proceedings as the Minister of Liberia, an independent nation.
If ever the curse of slavery were manifest in the character of man, it has fully exhibited itself in this man Roberts. . .
Here, faithful to the trust reposed in him by his American white masters, this man Roberts discards the people whom he feigns to represent, considering it a condescension to do so, spurns at the idea of reporting to them the results of his mission, but as a serf to his lord, considers it an honor and special privilege to submit his doings first to a white man, hence, that malignant libeller (sic) of our race, A. G. Phelps was selected and reported to, over the heads of his country and his people."
~ by Martin Delany "The North Star" 3/3/1849
J .J. Robert lived in a handsome stone mansion that resembled a southern plantation house
Following Roberts, Stephen Allen Benson(1816-1865)served as president for eight years. His biggest accomplishment was the annexation of the Colony of Maryland, now Maryland County, into the Republic of Liberia in 1857. He also obtained the recognition of Liberia from the following countries: Belgium, 1858: Denmark, 1869; United States and Italy, 1862; Norway and Sweden, 1863; and Haiti, 1864.
About Stephen Allen Benson
Stephen Allen Benson was a Black businessman and politician.
Born in Maryland, USA, Benson was only six years old when he and his family immigrated to Liberia in 1822. Soon after they arrived, their settlement was attacked and they were held captive for several months until the ACS agent secured their freedom. Upon his release, Benson rejoined his family and began his schooling. In 1835, he joined the militia and was stationed in Grand Bassa County; remained there after his service working in trade and agriculture. As a politician, Benson was first elected to office in 1842, winning a seat on the Colonial Council.
After Liberia gained its independence in 1847, he served as a judge until his election as Vice President in 1853. When President Joseph Jenkins Roberts declined to seek a fifth term in 1855, Benson was elected to succeed him. During his four-term presidency, Liberia saw an expansion of both its internal and external trade and, in 1862 the country got diplomatic recognition by the United States. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was the annexation of the Colony of Maryland, now Maryland Country, into the Republic of Liberia in 1857.
Benson was the first American born Liberian President to speak several native languages, favoring a progressive policy toward Liberia's native peoples; regrettably, this policy remained largely unimplemented. He left office at the close of 1863 and returned to his coffee plantation in Grand Bassa County. Stephen Benson died in 1865
The president from 1864 to 1868 was Daniel Bashiel Warner(1815-1880). His goal was to integrate the indigenous people, particularly the natives in the interior, into the "new" society. He organized the first expedition into the dense forest lead by J. K. Anderson.
Following Warner, James Spriggs Payne (1819-1882) served for two years from 1868 to 1870. He also served as president again in 1876 to 1878.
Edward Jenkins Roye (1815-1872) became president of Liberia in 1871. He began a program of reconstruction for his nation intending to build new roads and schools. In an attempt to fulfil his dream of building roads and schools, Roye sailed to England and negotiated a high interest loan with London banks, without consent from the legislature.
Roye returned to Liberia with $90,000 however, bonds had been issued for $400,000.
Roye faced resentment and bitterness, and was accused of corruption. He tried to extend his two-year term as president, resulting in an uprising by Liberians. Roye sailed for England where he began negotiations with London banks. In October 1871,Roye was deposed from office., He was brought to trial, but escaped in the night and is said to have drowned in an attempt to reach a English ship in Monrovia harbor, on Feb. 12, 1872. There are conflicting claims that Roye was in fact killed by his enemies and dragged through the streets of Liberia. There are also claims that Roye was imprisoned.
Roye was replaced by his Vice President James Skivring Smith for the remainder of his term. From 1871-72, James Skivring Smith was the interim president of Liberia. Smith was born in Charleston, South Carolina and he arrived in Liberia in 1833. He was Secretary of State of Liberia, from 1856-1860, senator, Grand Bassa County, 1868-1869 and superintendent of Grand Bassa County, 1874-1884.
J .J. Roberts(1809-1876)became president again serving for four more years (1872-1876), followed by James S. Payne's second term as president (1876-1878).
James S. Payne's second term as president was from 1876-1878.
Anthony W. Gardiner (1820-1885), president since 1878, Gardiner was upset that Liberia could not protect its claim to the Gallinas, a northern coastal area between the Mano and Sewa Rivers, from European colonial encroachment. Economically and militarily weak, Liberia was forced to allow the British to annex the area next to Sierra Leone
Gardiner was so upset in the way the British took part of Liberia's territory, he resigned from office and vice-president Alfred F. Russell became president.
Alfred F. Russell(1817-1884) originated from Kentucky, U.S.A., before coming to Liberia in 1833. He shared the criticism against Gardiner and soon headed the opposition against Gardiner’s willingness to give up a large part of Liberian territory. He was President of Liberia from 1883-1884.
Hilary R. W. Johnson (1837-1901) was elected and became the first Liberian-born president serving from 1884 to 1892. He negotiated with the British government to establish a treaty specifying exactly the boundary between Liberia and Sierra Leone.Iin 1885, President Hilary Wright Johnson formally acquiesced in the annexation.
Joseph James Cheeseman (1843-1898) from Edina, Grand Bassa Co. became the next president. President Cheeseman died in office and vice-president William David Colemen served the remainder of the term and another four years until 1900.
William David Colemen(1842-1908) served the remainder of the term and another four years until 1900.
Garreston W. Gibson (1832-1910)served as president from 1900 to 1904. His accomplishments as President include the granting of rights to the Union Mining Operations to investigate the hinterland for minerals including gold.
Also investigated was the flora of the Liberian hinterland. Finally, the Northern boundary was surveyed by a joint commission of Liberia and Great Britain.
Arthur Barclay (1854-1938) was the President from 1904 to 1912. During his administration Liberia joined the convention of African Powers for the preservation of big game, rare animals and birds. In 1907 he headed a mission to the U.S. to arrange boundary disputes with the British and French Governments.
Daniel Edward Howard (1861-1935) was president of Liberia from 1912 to 1920. Born in the town of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, he worked his way up through the civil service to become secretary of the True Whig Party, the country's only political party at the time.
On January 1, 1912, Hon. Daniel Edward Howard was inaugurated President of the republic of Liberia. It was the first inauguration ever attended by native chiefs. A writer described Howards inauguration as follows:
President Howard's inauguration
"It was the first inauguration ever attended by native chiefs, headmen and retainers, and their presence was significant. They talked nothing but peace and prosperity, and promised to do all in their power to make the new administration a highly successful one.
Nearly two thousand natives from the interior listened to President Howard advocate that they be given equal rights, and when on the second day President Howard and Vice President Harmon donned attire similar to that worn by the native chiefs, the incident occasioned much good feeling."
With the outbreak of World War I, he attempted to maintain the country's neutrality, though he tended to support the Allies, who colonial territories in Africa surrounded Liberia. Despite German protests, he allowed the French to operate a wireless station in the capital, Monrovia. Realizing that their complaints were in vain, the Germans sent a submarine to attack the city in 1917, forcing the reluctant Howard to side with the Allies and declare war on Germany. Howard remained in office for two years after the war's end. He died in Monrovia in 1935.
Charles D. B. King (1872-1961) became Liberia's President in 1920 and served for 10 years. President King and his vice-president resigned from office in 1930 amidst scandal resulting for the accusations of slavery and forced labor. In 1921, the Liberian legislature approved a provision prohibiting the export of labor to the Island of Fernando Po.
These laborers were said to be forced into work. The League of Nations established a commission to determine the extent of forced labor and slavery still practiced by in Liberia. The Liberian government also appointed a commission to investigate these allegations. It was found that forced labor was used for construction of certain public works such as roads in the interior. And certain tribes did practice domestic servitude that could be considered as slavery. These practices were ordered to cease but some politicians and leading citizen demanded that the King administration step down.
During the 1923 election incumbent candidate D. B. King received 45,000 votes at a time when only 6,000 voters were legally registered, that gave Liberia a dubious place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's most rigged election.
Edwin Barclay (1882-1955), completed the last term of C.D.B. King became President of Liberia in 1930 and served until 1944. During his tenure, President Barclay had to deal with a campaign against the Kru Tribes of Sinoe County, economic depression, and the beginning of World War II. During the final years of the Barclay administration war broke out in Europe.
Barcley declared that the British currency be withdrawn as legal tender and only the Liberian coins and the United States coins and notes be the official currency. The war caused the government to ration some scarce commodities. Several Inter-Allied conferences were held and after the Casablanca conference and in 1943, United States President, F.D. Roosevelt, visited Liberia and met with President Barclay.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States having lunch with President Edwin J. Barclay of Liberia at Roberts International Airport, during FDR's visit to Liberia in January 1943.
In 1944 William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman (1895-1971) was elected to the first of seven terms as Liberian president. In 1971, he died in office, he was one of Liberia's most effective presidents. He studied to be a lay Methodist preacher and subsequently entered public service. During the 1920s and '30s, after earning a law degree, he served in the Liberian Senate, where he championed the cause of the tribes of the interior against the established oligarchy. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1937 and served as Liberia's president from 1944 until his death.
Inauguration day, January, 1956. First snap: President William V.S. Tubman, center; escorted by Secretary of the Interior, Harrison Grisby, left; and Vice President William R. Tolbert, right. Second snap: President and Mrs. Tubman lead the "Grand March" at the inaugural ball.
On June 22, 1955, both houses of the Legislature met at the Executive Pavilion, to officially inform President Tubman of his re-election. At eight o'clock that night, several shots were allegedly fired at President Tubman. Hon. Daniel Derrick, a member of the Legislature, and William Hutchins, a presidential guard, were wounded. James Bestman, a man who would later play a prominent role in the implementation of the massive security network in Liberia, arrested one Paul Dunbar. Dunbar was indicted for the shooting. The next day, on June 23, 1955, warrants were issue for the arrested of the following people: Nete Sie Brownell, former Attorney General of Liberia and Vice Presidential candidate to former President Barclay; S. David Coleman, former Secretary of the Interior; and Raymond Horace, legal advisor to the opposition parties. The result of the Liberian Government investigation revealed that a "Smith and Wesson" .38 caliber, six shooter was used in the assassination attempt; and that one V.S. Onemega, a Nigerian national, was paid by the opposition parties, to kill President Tubman with witchcraft.On June 27, 1955, Coleman and his son John, were killed by Tubman's security forces. The casualties on the government side included: one police officer and one security officer killed; and Edwin Smyth, one of the men who would managed the massive security network under Tubman, and four others, were wounded.
The attempted assassination of Tubman set the stage for the implementation of a massive security network and national paranoia. Eight years after the 1955 incident (in 1963) Colonel D.Y. Thompson, commander of the Liberian National Guard, was arrested for being member of a cabal called the "CLUB", which reportedly planned to overthrow the Liberian Government . In 1968, Henry Fahnbullah, Liberian Ambassador to Kenya; Robert Kennedy, Sr., Superintendent of Lofa County; James Y. Gbyeyea, Superintendent of Bong County; and Gabriel Fangarlow, Superintendent of Nimba County, were all arrested for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Liberian government. They were tried and sentenced to long prison sentences.
On the international arena, Tubman played a pivotal role in the implementation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
One of the first official acts of Tubman's administration was the declaration of war against Nazi Germany and Japan. Liberia became an important country in the supply line of the Allied troops. The U.S. constructed the Free Port of Monrovia and built temporary landing strips on the beaches of Robertsport.
After the conclusion of War World II, several key events took place in Liberia. Liberia celebrated 100 years of independence in July of 1947. Education was one of President Tubman's top priority. Liberia College was expanded and became the University of Liberia. Teacher training schools were expanded or established throughout Liberia to train the desperately needed instructors for primary and secondary schools. A domestic arts school and commercial school were started. Several agricultural stations were placed throughout the country to educate the people of the new methods for raising crops and live stock.
Another achievement of the Tubman administration is the development of the iron ore industry in Liberia.
However, some claim that the huge influx of foreign money caused the economy to become distorted and exacerbated social inequalities a consequence of which was increasing hostility between the descendants of the settlers and the original inhabitants. This alarmed Tubman and he was forced to concede the original inhabitants would have to be granted an amount of political and economic involvement in the country. One of his concessions was to enfranchise them. 97 per cent of the population had been denied the franchise until 1963.
Veteran Liberian, Albert Porte's letter to President Tubman August 25, 1951,on the use of Liberia's treasury to purchase the first luxury presidential yacht (463-ton vessel with a passenger capacity of thirty-six – which required an international crew, a separate bureau within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an annual of $125,000.00). (published in "Thinking about the Unthinkable things the Democratic Way", Monrovia 1967 pp. 22-23)
Dear Mr. President:
Ever since I read a copy of the Listener in which you published your message to the Legislature convoking the special session, I have been thinking and trying not to think, and feel urged to let you know some of the thoughts that have been passing through my mind, sincerely hoping and believing that it will be taken in the real democratic spirit, realizing fully, as I know you do, that ultimate success or failure in a democracy rests not only upon the President, but upon each citizen as well.
Liberia is classified among the undeveloped countries of the world. She lacks some of the basic minimum requirements, and needs much more than she can muster at the present time for her internal development. And although this is so, we are undertaking to spend $150,000 for the purchase of a yacht for the use of the President. In addition to this, it will require a tidy sum for its upkeep. It is my humble opinion that at the present stage of the country’s development, this amount could be more profitably used towards real development with more permanent results. Yes, other countries have these things and in time as our country is developed we too will have some of them, but I think we should concentrate upon fundamentals.
Unfortunately, the citizens of this country do not feel free to express themselves upon vital questions affecting them, but sit by and grumble “the people don’t mean anything”. I am afraid that even in the Legislature there is a great reluctance if not the absence of the free expression of thoughts and opinion, especially where the President is concerned. To tell the truth, it has required a huge effort on my part to have expressed my thought here. So I have no justification in condemning the reluctance in others.
This only bring to face to face with great responsibility weighing so heavily upon the President, which could be lightened if the people felt free to express themselves and their views were taken in the right spirit.
Very sincerely your,
President Tubman's response to Albert Porte
Dear Mr. Porte.
Your letter of August 25th in which you informed me that you have been worried since you read the copy of the Listener which carried my Special Message to the Legislature and my reference to the purchase of a Yacht for the President of Liberia have been received.
You state in your letter that One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars should be utilized for some other more beneficial purpose and not for the purchase of a yacht for the President of Liberia, and that some people are grumbling but that they do not come forward and state their dissatisfaction, even some Member of the Legislature you state.
I appreciate you candor in the matter, but I am in total disagreement with your views expressed and method of thinking on the subject.
I take the liberty to tell you an experience that I had in 1939 at which I was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Legislature and the Supreme Court were to be opened and for two weeks they could not get a quorum. An American ship came in the Captain name was Mr. Bogden. He knew me personally and therefore agreed to bring me to Monrovia, but refused to take any other Member of the Legislature or Member of the Supreme Court. I pleaded with him to take the other Members but he insisted that he would not.
Finally, he asked me the following question: “Justice Tubman, do you mean to tell me that your Government has no means to by which she can get Members of the Legislature and the Supreme Court to the Seats of the Legislature and the Supreme Court except they are transported there by our ships or some foreign ships?” Although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then asked another question: “If your President desire to come to Cape Palmas, you mean to tell me that he could not come unless our ship or ships of some other line brought him?” Again, although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. Hen then came forth with the last question: “Then Justice Tubman, do you think you should have a President, a Legislature, or a Supreme Court if the Members of these bodies have had to be transported to the seats of the Legislature and the Court by foreign craft?” This question baffled me and I could not answer it.
I narrate this experience of mine to show you the difference in the thinking of civilized people about the type of thing that you are objecting to.
On the other hand, you and the rest of the grumblers, although I do not know who they are but they seem to be known to you, make no contribution or make so little contribution to the resources of the country that you should be ashamed to talk about the public expenditure.
How much taxes have you or any of the grumblers paid into the public treasury from 1944, when I took office and met the net revenues at One Million Dollars, to the present? By recommendation to the Legislature of measures to increase the revenues which they approved, within seven years it is expected that revenues will reach eight to tem million dollars at the end of the year. How much taxes of any kind or financial contribution have you or the grumblers put into the revenue to cause this increase? Have you or any of you contributed towards the Income Tax, the Ticket Tax, the Injury Tax, the Sales Tax or the Profit tax? Have you paid your Real estate Taxes; if so in what amount?
It might interest you to know that I paid Income tax of more than Two Thousand Dollars for the last year alone. Firestone paid nearly Three Million Dollars Income Tax.
The people who pay taxes in the country and would be entitled to interpose objections are those up country, the foreigners and few of your element who really do pay taxes. The grumblers are the set who contribute nothing for the protection, right and benefit of citizenship which they enjoy.
Now you just sit down and forget that it is you and begin to think what financial contribution do you or have you made to your country.
Your spirit appears to me to be anarchical I remember during the last Administration, you were critical and censorious of it. When it comes to the present Administration, you are occasionally censorious and critical of it. I have never known you to compliment any administration, but you always look for what you think to be weak spots in it. I think this is an evil spirit and an evil eye which will not do you or the country any good. Supposed every or most persons had the same spirit, what would happen to the country!
It may be necessary to inform you that in 1949, without consultation with me, the Legislature voted One Hundred Thousand Dollars to purchase a yacht for the President> I did not do so but delay it because I felt the revenue had not reached where I wanted them; now the revenue justify it. I made contacts to get one but found that the One Hundred Thousand Dollars could not purchase it. I therefore requested the additional Fifty Thousand Dollars and the same has been approved, and I will but the yacht.
During the early days when the founding fathers first came here, they had ships which were not owned by Government but by private citizens and companies. That industry was permitted to die out and for more than sixty to seventy years there was not a solitary means of transport from one point to another until recently when I succeeded in procuring two airplanes for Government since private citizens could not do it. And now we have an Airline in the country and the planes land airstrips built by Government.
I will but the yacht without regard to the grumbling of you grumblers. That yacht will be used for the recreation of the President from his onerous duties that have been increased by more than one thousand percent since 1944, and may invite you to accompany me on one of my cruises that you might get a benefit of some rest from your onerous duty as a school teacher and which may possibly broaden your vision.
W. V. S. Tubman
Newsweek, August 2, 1971
THE PASSING OF UNCLE SHAD
Among the leaders of Contemporary Africa, William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman, President of the West African republic of Liberia, was a bizarre anachronism. A bespectacled, cocoa-colored man, Tubman often appeared in the blazing sun of his capital of Monrovia turned out in a gleaming top hat and cutaway. With a glass of Scotch in one hand and big Havana cigar in the other, he ran Liberia for 27 years as if the country were his private plantation. And when he died last week in a London hospital after surgery for a prostate gland ailment, his passing left a vacuum that would not be easy to fill. Said one Liberian sadly: "We've never known any other President than "Uncle Shad." He took care of us."
That kind of talk, reminiscent of the Scarlett O'Hara days of the American South, came naturally in Tubman's Liberia. The country was founded in 1822 by freed American slaves on land purchased by the white-organized American Colonialization Society from local African chiefs. In 1847 it became an independent republic with a constitution patterned after that of the U.S. Unsullied by European colonialism, Liberia emerged as a distorted mirror-image of the U.S., complete with pidgin English, greenback dollars, and cops with hip-swinging revolvers and New York City style police uniforms. Ruling this roost were the Americo-Liberians, descendants of the few thousand original black colonizers, who remained aloof from the 2 million natives inhabiting the surrounding hinterland.
Into these movie-set surroundings, Tubman fitted with perfection. A descendant of blacks who left Georgia in 1834, he survived a scandal involving a slavery racket to become President in 1944. After that, it was impossible to dislodge Tubman from the $12 million Presidential Palace. Like the leaders of most of Liberia's aristocratic families, ranging from Ambassador Charles T.O. King in Paris to onetime Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. George T. Washington, Tubman amassed a large personal fortune. But while the President and the rest of the black Yankee upper crust lived in style, the huge majority of Liberian people-despite Tubman's development programs-subsisted in squalor.
Father: for all the opulence of its stately mansions, moreover, Tubman's Monrovia remained a ramshackle city where cabdrivers pointed out to visitors the numerous sons and daughters of their virile President. When Kingsley Martin, the British socialist, once jokingly described Tubman as more deserving of the title of "father of his people" than any other President he knew, a local Monrovian newspaper proudly quoted the remark under the headline: "Father of his people."
Despite his free-wheeling style, however, Tubman was in many ways more enlightened than most of his fellow African leaders. By throwing open Liberia to foreign investment, he helped give the country one of the fastest growth rates in the underdeveloped world and an annual per capita income of $220-double the average for the continent. He introduced schools into the bush and above all sought to reduce class differences between the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous people. Over-all, Tubman ran a stable government and indulged in much less brutality than some of his left-wing African critics.
In the atmosphere of present-day Black Africa, however, more and more young, educated Liberians came to resent Tubman's one-man rule. They were infuriated by Liberia's elections, in which Tubman regularly won more than 99 percent of the vote. Bitterly, too, they charged that one of the most corrupt figures in a government rife with corruption was President Tubman himself.
Suicide: Shrewdly, Tubman foresaw all this when, a few years ago, he dispatched a group of students to the U.S. for university training. "I'm committing political suicide," he observed thoughtfully. "These boys will come back experts, and I know nothing but the Bible."
And, for all his shortcomings, Tubman was a beguiling man who was genuinely liked by most of his people. Courteous and open, he had the reputation of being available to the humblest of his countrymen. And when it came right down to it, Liberians also liked the show he put on-his party-giving, his drum-playing, the quadrilles he sometimes danced with his daughter Coocoo. "In a sense, he was legitimately a man of the people," said a Western diplomat last week. "The trouble was that President Tubman, like Liberia, was so touchingly out of date."
Some also claim that Tubman dishonored J.J. Robert's most important legacy, and dismantled the constitutional order Roberts had built by entrenching himself as the country's first ever president-for-life. William Tubman had been President since 1944 as leader of the 'True Whig Party' (which had ruled Liberia since 1870).
Tolbert continued with the majority of Tubman's policies; however, unlike Tubman, Tolbert came to stand for closer links with the Soviet Union, a vision of cooperation with the states of the region and a belief in the Organization of African Unity. Tolbert established diplomatic relations with communist countries such as the People's Republic of China and created harsh laws to deal with opposition to his regime. This prompted complaints from the USA about violations to human rights.
Jimmy Carter on his visit to Liberia in 1978
"I made my first visit to Liberia as president in 1978, when the nation was a symbol of stability and economic progress in West Africa. The visit represented a continuation of the strong ties between our countries that had been maintained for more than 150 years, since freed American slaves established a government there in 1822.
President William Tolbert enjoyed worldwide acceptance as an enlightened Christian layman, having been the elected leader of he Baptist World Alliance, representing almost all organizations of this major Protestant faith.
My wife, Rosalynn, and I noticed the minimal level of security, both for Liberian public officials and for visiting dignitaries, quite different from what we had experienced on other foreign visits. When questioned, American Embassy personnel explained to the Secret Service that Liberians were a peaceful people and violence was unlikely". ~ Jimmy Carter,July 13, 2003
In 1979 there were demonstrations against the increase in the price of rice. Some demonstrators were shot. These large-scale demonstrations over a proposed increase in the price of rice (rice is the staple food in Liberia) led to 41 people being killed and 548 injured when police fired on demonstrators. Damage was estimated at $40-49 million. The Liberian Congress granted Tolbert emergency powers for a year and the university, described by Tolbert as, "a breeding-ground for revolutionary and subversive ideas" was closed.
By this time Liberia's foreign indebtedness was estimated at about $800-million.
In 1980 a military coup, carried out by the 'People's Redemption Council', composed of junior army officers, seized the presidential mansion assassinated Tolbert and some of his Ministers, and proclaimed the coup leader Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe as president. CBS Footage of Doe's Coup
In 1980 a military coup led by Samuel K. Doe(1951-1990), a Liberian of "non-American" descent. He assassinated President Tolbert and overthrew the government that had held sway over Liberia since 1847.
This ended Liberia's first republic. After the coup, he assumed leadership of Liberia, and in 1981 he promoted himself to general. In 1985 he dissolved the military government and was elected president under the new government. He was trained by the American Green Berets, Doe was an ethnic Krahn, part of a rural and deprived tribe in inland Liberia. They did not have much in common with the Americo-Liberian elite who ruled the country.
During his time in rule he banned newspapers and outlawed opposition political parties. He also entered into deals with the United States government, allowing them to use the country to fight against the Soviet Union and made Liberia part of the Nonaligned Movement to curry favor with the United States. In May 1981 the Libyan 'People's Bureau' in Liberia was ordered to close, and the Soviet Embassy in Monrovia was ordered to reduce its staff from 15 to 6 and in July 1985 diplomatic relations were severed with the Soviet Union. Since the overthrow of President William Tolbert in April 1980 total grants to Liberia were increased from $13.8 million in 1980 to $51,5 million in 1981.
In September 1982 the International Monetary Fund approved grants to Liberia totaling $88 million.
In August 1982 Doe paid a two week official visit to the USA during which he had a meeting with President Ronald Reagan. The US government agreed to provide training facilities for the Liberian armed forces, together with military aircraft and $15 million in military credits during 1983. February 1983 Liberia signed an agreement with the USA worth $5 million for an improvement of Roberts International Airport in return for the granting of refueling facilities for US military, aircraft.
Excerpt from Bill Berkeley's "Between Repression and Slaughter":
Casting himself as the liberator of Liberia's indigenous masses, [Doe] promised to put an end to the corrupt and oppressive domination by the Americo-Liberian elite and to establish a more equitable distribution of the nation's wealth. He pledged to return the country to civilian rule. But he soon proved to be a lawless and brutal tyrant. In October of 1985 he brazenly stole the election that was to have ushered in civilian rule.
A month later he put down a widely applauded and nearly successful coup attempt with horrific violence, killing hundreds—mostly members of the Gio and Mano tribes, from the remote border region of Nimba County.
[T]he United States contributed half a billion dollars in economic and military aid in the first five years of Doe's regime—a third of Liberia's operating budget. President Ronald Reagan invited Doe to the White House... There was concern that the young soldier and his populist backers might tilt toward Libya or even Moscow. There was also an "implicit bargain," as one American diplomat told me at the time, "that the military would let go if its needs were looked after."
But when the military failed to let go, the Reagan Administration did not challenge the results of the rigged election... On the contrary, Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, the Administration's chief spokesman on African affairs, issued a series of unforgettable statements during that critical period, about "positive aspects" of the election and about the standards of "a part of the world where the norm is single-party rule," which Liberians to this day regard as plainly racist.
By the late 1980's, as fiscal austerity took hold in the United States and the threat of Communism declined with the waning of the Cold War, the US began cutting off critical foreign aid to Doe. (watch clip from PBS)
In October 1985 elections were held, in which Doe was declared President, with 51% of the vote, Doe's NDPL was declared to have won 22 out of 26 seats in the Senate and 51 out of 64 seats in the House of Representatives. By early November all the opposition parties had denounced the elections as fraudulent. Only 9 representatives of foreign states (including that, of the USA) attended Doe's inauguration.
Doe had received more than $500 million in economic aid and military assistance from the US. Doe's opponents were detained without trial, tortured and summarily executed.
In June 1985 the International Monetary Fund ruled that Liberia was no longer eligible for IMF credits because of its failure to pay on time arrears of some $52.4 million.
Although economic 'aid' to Liberia had been suspended under US law because of arrears of debt servicing payments, which by 31 March 1986 amounted to $660 thousand, it was announced that the USA would give Liberia $42 million in economic 'aid' during 1986. The funds had reportedly been made available in exchange for 'political concessions' from the Liberian government.
The US continued to finance Liberia during 1987 (at a time when most of the country's donors had suspended aid). The World Bank, for example, took such action in June 1987 because of the Liberian government's arrears in repayments, resulting, from corruption and local mismanagement.
In 1988, the Liberian government was warned that US aid would cease unless payment of $7 million of arrears was received by May 1989.
In January 1988 a team of 17 US financial experts arrived in Liberia and were given effective control of the Liberian government's finances, they were empowered to countersign all financial documents issued by the government. However, they quickly became frustrated by the Doe bureaucracy and their two-year contract was terminated after one year. By this time Liberia's foreign debt totaled $1,700 million, with arrears on repayments amounting to $671 million
Charles Taylor( 1948 - ) , is sometimes described as descendent from a Liberian mother and an "Americo-Liberian" father. The little-known truth is, however, that his father, also named Charles Frederick Taylor, was born and grew up in Point Fortin, Trinidad.
Charles Taylor, an old ally of Samuel Doe's, crossed the Liberian border on December 24, 1989 to fight a guerrilla war against Doe. Taylor was appointed by President Samuel Doe to run the General Services Agency but was arrested in Massachusetts when Doe accused him of embezzling almost US$ 1 million
He remained in prison from May 1984 to September 1985 while awaiting extradition. He escaped prison and is thought to have gone to Libya. Taylor had broken out of jail and by mid-1990 Taylor controlled the majority of Liberia.
By the spring of 1990 Taylor's armed force was approximately 15,000 strong, and they called themselves the 'National Patriotic Forces of Liberia' (NPFL). They occupied most of the country and had advanced to the outskirts of Monrovia.
In February 1990 one of Taylor's officers, 'Prince' Johnson, executed a number of NPLF commandos for alleged looting and desertion. This aroused Taylor's wrath and a split occurred in the NPLF forces. Johnson broke away with a force some 500-1,000 strong.
Doe was captured in Monrovia by Prince Johnson on September 9, 1990 and was killed shortly thereafter.
Taylor's campaign turned into an ethnic conflict, with seven factions fighting for control of Liberia's resources (esp. iron ore, timber and rubber). Up to 200,000 people were killed and more than 1 million were forced from their homes.
During the civil war that followed, Interim Presidents were chosen to lead the government
Taylor's regime was legitimized when he became Liberia's president in a landslide poll victory in 1997. The vote may have been tainted by several poll irregularities. (watch video clip from PBS)
On August 11 2003, Taylor stepped down, leaving Vice-president Moses Blah in charge. Taylor flew to Nigeria where the Nigerian government provided houses for him and his entourage.
Moses Blah, was named President of Liberia on August 11, 2003. He had served as the vice president of the country under Charles Taylor since 2000. Blah had been an ally of Taylor's during Liberia's civil war in the 1990s.
Blah was arrested in July of 2003 for ten days on charges of conspiring with Americans to overthrow Taylor. He served as president until October 2003, when a transitional government was sworn in.
Charles Gyude Bryantborn in Maryland County, Liberia. He was chosen by the representatives of fighting parties, political parties and civil society during peace talks in in Ghana in October 14, 2003. Bryant replaced interim leader Moses Blah, who took over on a temporary basis from Charles Taylor.
Gyude Bryant - Liberia's Transition Head
Soft spoken 54 year old Gyude Bryant, the newly chosen head of the transition government, is a Liberian business man and he holds a prominent position in the Liberian Episcopal Church.
Bryant has a degree in Economics from the prestigious University College.
In 1972 he began working with the Mesurado Group of Companies, as a fleet manager and in 1973, Bryant joined the National Port Authority as head of the planning and development department.
In 1977, Bryant founded his own company, the Liberia Machinery and Supply Company. The company, is a distributor of mining and port handling equipment.
In 1984, he got involved with the Liberia Action Party (LAP).
In 1992, Bryant was elected chairman of LAP.
Bryant is a devout Christian and maintains strong ties to the Episcopal Church.
Since 1984 he has served as chairman for endowment of the church. In 1996 he was elected chairman of its Diocesan Board of Trustees, a position he retains to this day.
Bryant sees himself as a "healer"; as he aptly put it "My priority will be to heal the pain, the wounds and the damages that were accumulated during the years"
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - Africa's first female president
Ellen Sirleaf, fondly called the "Iron Lady", was named President of Liberia on January, 16th 2006 following Liberia's presidential run-off; thus, becoming Liberia and Africa's first democratically elected female president.
During the election campaign, the diminutive grandmother figure was often dwarfed by her party officials and bodyguards but over a political career spanning almost 30 years she has earned her steely nickname.
She was imprisoned in the 1980s for criticising the military regime of Samuel Doe and then backed Charles Taylor's rebellion before falling out with him and being charged with treason after he became president.
She twice went into exile to escape her legal problems with the governments of the day.
In 1997, she came a distant second to Mr Taylor in elections following a short-lived peace deal.
One veteran of Liberia's political scene said Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf's nickname comes from her iron will and determination.
"It would have been much easier for her to quit politics and sit at home like others have done but she has never given up," he said.
Her supporters say she has two advantages over the man she faced in the run-off - former football star George Weah - she is better educated and is a woman.
Sirleaf pledged a 'fundamental break' with Liberia's violent past as she was sworn in Monday as president, carving her name into history as Africa's first elected female head of state. Wearing a traditional African headdress, Sirleaf took the oath of office in a ceremony attended by thousands of Liberians and scores of foreign dignitaries, including US first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (AP Photo/Pewee Flomoku)
Liberian Chief justice of the Supreme Court Henry Reed Cooper administers the oath of office to President elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia, Liberia, Monday Jan. 16, 2006.
Ellen Sirleaf a "shinning example" ~ Laura Bush
...we're going for the inauguration of the first woman president on the African continent. Dr. Rice will be joining us. We're really, really excited to be at such a historic inauguration. Her election followed a very competitive, but from all international observers, said free and transparent election, which was really great, especially under the circumstances of the recent history of Liberia. She ran on a platform of reconciliation and reconstruction, and it's going to take the help of a lot of countries, including the United States, which has a special relationship with Liberia, for her and the people of Liberia to be able to do the reconstruction they need. And so I'm really thrilled to be able to bring the best wishes of the American people to her as she's sworn in as their President...., more>>