Why should African Americans care about Liberia? Of all the countries in Africa, Liberia is where we have the most recent, direct, traceable history of real interaction.
In 1822 settlers, some freed slaves, some free Blacks, settled or perhaps more accurately, began to colonize Liberia. On the one hand, those immigrating to Liberia had lost their ethnic (tribal) affiliation, but on the other hand, they were free of the shame and bondage of slavery, and the stigma of living in an America that did not want them. Most importantly, they were returned to their continent, the point of their departure.
What happened next forever complicated the relationship between African Americans and Liberia. These freed settlers, originally sold into slavery by other Africans, met indigenous Liberians and cultural clashes ensued. The returned “Americanized” Africans were eventually known as Americo Liberians. I would imagine that my people at last, finding a place to take root on African soil felt somewhat like the Jews felt after the Holocaust. That Never Again would they be subject to the cruelty and disrespect of others. Perhaps that fear was the unconscious reason that what ended up being created was an elevated settler class and an underclass of indigenous, tribal Liberians.
In this stratified society Liberia experienced 158 years of somewhat uninterrupted development, but, in the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Truth crushed to the ground will rise,” and eventually this silently troubled society erupted in the April 12th 1980 coup. President William R.Tolbert was assassinated and 13 cabinet ministers were shot by public firing squad on the beach. This act followed by slowly brewing ethnic tensions over the next 10 years finally exploded into the 1989 Liberian Civil War which lasted for 15 years. A war which has ripped out all of Liberia’s infrastructure, depleted her human capital, and forever altered the country’s developmental trajectory.
On Liberian Independence Day, June 26, 2010, we get to acknowledge the fact that a remnant of African slaves was able to return to Mother Africa. That a society, however flawed, was moved forward and thus forged a significant tie in Liberia, West Africa from which, in my opinion, we can never be torn.
Jews in America acknowledge and support Israel. They use their collective voices to preserve Israel and they shape and influence America’s policies toward Israel. As Liberia struggles to rebuild we African Americans should begin the research our relationship with Liberia and consider that this is a country that has special significance to us.