Since its founding, Liberia has had a unique relationship with the United States. Its history is closely linked with American slavery and the abolitionist movement in the United States, and the West African nation was founded as a colony for former African American slaves and free blacks, who were encouraged to emigrate from the United States during the early nineteenth century. During the early twentieth century, a black nationalist movement in the United States attempted to send more settlers to Liberia.
Liberia’s first American settlers were eighty-eight free-born African Americans who went there in 1820 and settled at Cape Mesurado, at the mouth of the St. Paul River. Most of these people were educated and free, and many owned property in Maryland and Virginia. Although they had not been born into slavery in the United States, they had not enjoyed full citizenship rights as Americans. By the time Liberia declared its independence in 1847, several thousand more free-born African Americans and former slaves had joined them in the new nation. These original immigrants and their descendants were afterward known as
By 1824, the original Cape Mesurado Colony was home to several hundred settlers and had been renamed the Liberia Colony. Throughout the 1820’s, other colonies were established along the coast. These included New Georgia, which was settled by Africans from other parts of the continent who had been liberated from
Meanwhile, several additional colonies were established under the sponsorship of colonization societies, including the
By 1847, when the Republic of Liberia declared its independence, approximately 15,000 Americans had settled in the country, along with a few thousand newly so-called Congos. Several European nations quickly established diplomatic relations with Liberia, but the United States did not recognize the new nation until 1862.
Liberia was long an anomaly in sub-Saharan Africa, most of which was colonized by European nations during the late nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, Liberia and Ethiopia were the only sub-Saharan countries that had not been colonized by Europe, but Liberia differed from Ethiopia, on the other side of the continent, in being politically dominated by non-African settlers, most of whom came from the United States. The country’s Americo-Liberian rulers did not even recognize members of Liberia’s indigenous societies as citizens of the new nation until 1904. During the 1920’s,
Meanwhile, Liberia developed painfully slowly. Even its borders with its colonial neighbors remained poorly defined until well into the twentieth century. In his 1936 book, Journey Without Maps, author
The Americo-Liberians governed Liberia through a single party. Although their governments were often corrupt, the country remained relatively stable until 1980, when an army sergeant named
From the early 1990’s through the first years of the twenty-first century, nearly 20,000 Liberians settled in the United States. Nearly three-quarters of them resided in
Because Liberia remains a fragile state with a weak economy and nearly nonexistent infrastructure, many U.S. government leaders believe that forcing the return of nearly 20,000 immigrants to Liberia could easily overwhelm the frail nation. To address the issue, the
Clegg, Claude Andrew. The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Comprehensive history of the origins and early development of Liberia. Koser, Khalid, ed. New African Diasporas. New York: Routledge, 2003. Describes the waves of immigration of the late twentieth century from Africa to the United States and to northern Europe and the United Kingdom. Murdza, Peter J., Jr. Immigrants to Liberia, 1865 to 1904: An Alphabetical Listing. Newark, Del.: Liberian Studies Association of America, 1975. Detailed list of all the African American families who settled in Liberia during the late nineteenth century. Ndubuike, Darlington. The Struggles, Challenges, and Triumphs of the African Immigrants in America. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. Discusses the struggles of African immigrants in adapting to American society. Smith, James Wesley. Sojourners in Search of Freedom: The Settlement of Liberia by Black Americans. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987. Another interesting history of the founding of Liberia by African Americans.
African Americans and immigrants
American Colonization Society
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