Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The League of Nations’ slavery commission led an investigation into the continuing trade in forced labor between Liberia and the Spanish cocoa plantations on the island of Fernando Pó and into corruption in the Liberian government. The subsequent report led to many reforms by the Liberian government.

Summary of Event

In 1930, the League of Nations, the precursor of the modern United Nations, issued a report issued by the Christy Commission, an international team that investigated charges that the African nation of Liberia was selling its citizens to the Spanish island colony of Fernando Pó Fernando Pó (now Bioko). The allegations were shocking to the world on many levels, but chiefly because Liberia was the culprit. Liberia had been founded in 1847 by former American slaves as a land of freedom, far from the reaches of slavery in the United States. The 1930 controversy, the commission found, was complex on several levels. King, Charles D. B. Yancy, Allen Cecil, Robert Christy Commission Liberia Slavery;in Liberia[Liberia] League of Nations [kw]Slavery, Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into (1930) King, Charles D. B. Yancy, Allen Cecil, Robert Christy Commission Liberia Slavery;in Liberia[Liberia] League of Nations [g]Africa;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [g]Europe;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [g]Liberia;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [g]Spain;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [g]Switzerland;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [c]Human rights;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [c]Labor;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [c]Trade and commerce;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [c]Colonialism and imperialism;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [c]Government;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] [c]International relations;1930: Liberia Is Accused of Selling Its Own Citizens into Slavery[00470] Christy, Cuthbert Johnson, Charles S. Barclay, Arthur Du Bois, W. E. B.

The United States government had alleged that there were human rights abuses in Liberia and that Liberian citizens were being pressed into forced labor, both within the boundaries of Liberia and at Fernando Pó. The Liberian government expressed its desire to have an impartial investigation of these allegations, and it asked for help in the matter. Robert Cecil, president of the British League of Nations, appointed the International Commission of Inquiry on Slavery and Forced Labor in Liberia. Because the United States was not a member of the League of Nations, its request for an impartial, international-level investigation would have to originate as an inquiry by the League of Nations. The League formed the Christy Commission, comprising Chairman Cuthbert Christy, a British doctor and a specialist in tropical diseases; Charles S. Johnson of Fisk University, an American social scientist and advocate for African Americans; and Arthur Barclay, a former president of Liberia.

The inquiry lasted over five months and not only investigated the allegations of slavery and forced labor but also examined the administration of Liberia more broadly. The Christy Commission found widespread corruption and a vastly mismanaged governmental base. It found that Liberia was a nation that foundered in massive amounts of national debt and an unstable infrastructure. The commission issued a “plan of assistance” as a remedy. The Liberian government agreed with the commission’s report and asked for the League’s help in providing administrative and financial assistance.

Fernando Pó, an island off the coast of Cameroon, had long suffered a decline in the population of its native people, the Bubi, because of sexually transmitted diseases brought by European colonists to the island and because of social dislocation. Fernando Pó was forced to look to the African mainland for laborers. In 1905, the governments of Fernando Pó and Liberia worked out a system where representatives from Fernando Pó’s plantations sent African recruiters into the Liberian interior. The recruiters were promised large bonuses for every laborer brought back to the island colony. The transfer of Liberian workers to Fernando Pó was implemented by the German company Wiechers & Helm. Those persons who were “recruited” into such labor conditions were given a passage order for travel to Fernando Pó. Though laborers were supposed to work no more than two years, most worked far longer.

One of the commission’s immediate goals was to clean up the corruption of the Liberian government at its top levels. Liberian vice president Allen Yancy and members of the Monrovia cabinet were Impeachment;Liberian cabinet impeached, and President Charles D. B. King resigned. Because the country’s next official election was not until January of 1932, Secretary of State Barclay was made interim president.

Yancy, investigators found, had organized and conducted the slave traffic from Liberia to Fernando Pó and was the chief beneficiary of this traffic. He also instigated the creation of camps where more than two hundred women were held against their will to “serve” male administrators and laborers. The women were taken away from their own communities and families to live in what were, in effect, rape camps.

The structural changes in Liberian government, though necessary, did not address the alarming and pressing fact that Liberian citizens were being sold by their own government to another country and were likewise being pressed into forced labor in their own homeland. The Christy Commission found Liberian society to be immensely fractured along lines of birth those who were indigenous (native African) and those who were of American lineage. Those who were of American descent overwhelmingly were socially dominant, owned land, and governed, and they were often the perpetrators of the human rights abuses that included human trafficking: the sale of Liberian citizens as slaves.

The commission’s plan of assistance sought to equalize the social standings of the indigenous and those of American lineage. It attempted to readjust the administration of the outlying areas of Liberia, where people lived more traditionally but increasingly at the whim of the government in Monrovia. It planned to financially bolster the Liberian government.

Impact

The Christy Commission was deeply criticized by American civil rights activist and educator W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois condemned the investigative attacks on Liberia while the commission ignored forced labor in European-occupied Africa. He condemned the exclusive focus on Liberia rather than on the Spanish colony of Fernando Pó for its corrupt role in “receiving” human slave traffic. Furthermore, Du Bois questioned why no one condemned the practices of the American tire company Firestone;and Liberia[Liberia] Firestone, which had invested in Liberia, created vast rubber Rubber;in Liberia[Liberia] plantations, and become wealthy from the heavy labor it exacted from Liberians. The Christy Commission, however, did not investigate Firestone.

Human trafficking has been a constant thread through world history, yet most people believe that slavery has been abolished. However, humans are still bought and sold. The accusations of the sale of Liberian citizens as laborers on the island colony of Fernando Pó came as a shocking revelation to most. The investigation by the Christy Commission found that the accusations were indeed shocking and complex. The case was littered with the effects of poverty, corruption, and greed. It was fed by a web of colonial powers (Spanish), German company officers, and Liberian politicians. At the local level, the commission’s findings led to a massive restructuring of Liberian government, including President Barclay’s new three-year program of development and governmental overhaul. At the global level, the sale of Liberian citizens called into question the world community’s awareness or lack thereof of mass injustice and suffering and led to questions of what it would do to address these problems. King, Charles D. B. Yancy, Allen Cecil, Robert Christy Commission Liberia Slavery;in Liberia[Liberia] League of Nations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Phillip James. “Seasons in Hell: Charles S. Johnson and the 1930 Liberian Labor Crisis.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2004. Examines the role of African American sociologist and activist Charles S. Johnson, who was in negotiation with Liberia in the sale of its citizens.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">League of Nations. Report of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Existence of Slavery and Forced Labor in the Republic of Liberia: Communication by the Government of Liberia. Geneva: Author, 1930. The intergovernmental report that uncovered the shocking sale of Liberians by their own government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sundiata, Ibrahim. Brothers and Strangers: Black Zion, Black Slavery, 1914-1940. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003. Discussion of the contradictions and complexities of Africa’s first self-governed nation created free from colonialism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Prelude to Scandal: Liberia and Fernando Po, 1880-1930.” Journal of African History 15, no. 1 (1974): 97-112. A wide-ranging examination of the historical factors in Liberia and Fernando Pó that allowed for the sale and forced labor Liberian citizens.

Belgium Confiscates Congo Free State from King Leopold II

British Atrocities in Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion Are Revealed

South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal

Liberian Workers Sue Bridgestone Firestone over Slave Labor

Categories: History Content