Back-to-Africa Movement - Liberia


The History of Liberia (after the arrival of Europeans) is unique in Africa as it started neither as a native state nor as a European colony, but began in 1821 when private societies began founding colonies for free blacks from the United States on the coast of West Africa. The first American ships were very uncertain of where they were heading. Their plan was to follow the paths that the British had taken beforehand, or simply take a chance on where they would land. At first, they followed the previous routes of the British and reached the coast of Sierra Leone. After leaving Sierra Leone, the Americans slowly reached the southern part of the African coastline. Eventually, the Americans found what they were looking for, what the British called, the Grain Coast. This region was called the Grain Coast because of the type of ginger spice used for medicine flavoring that it provided, which was called, aframomum meleguete. In the Grain Coast, local African chiefs willingly gave the Americans tracts of land. It took the Americans the next twenty years to gain a series of fragmented settlements across the Liberia's barely settled beach. Along with the difficulty of gaining enough land, life was not easy for these early settlers. Disease was rampant, along with the lack of food. Hostile tribes presented the settlers with great struggle, destroying some of their new land settlements. Almost half of the new settlers had died over the first twenty years since their arrival in Liberia. Liberia gained independence on 26 July 1847. With an elected black government and the offer of free land to African American settlers, Liberia became the most common destination of emigrating African Americans during the 19th century.

Blacks' interest in Liberia emigration emerged when the Civil War promised the end of slavery and meaningful change to the status of Black Americans. 7,000 slaves were freed by their masters, so at that point those free African Americans left the U.S. to escape racism and have more opportunities (mainly because they had lost all hope of achievement). In the 1830s, the movement became increasingly dominated by slave owners who wanted Liberia to absorb the free blacks of the South. Slaves freed from slave ships were sent here instead of their country of origin. The emigration of free blacks to Liberia particularly increased after the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831. Middle class blacks were more resolved to live as black Americans, many rural poor folks gave up on the United States and looked to Liberia to construct a better life. Liberia provided freedom and equality; it also represented a chance for a better life for the South's black farmers. The Liberian government promised 25 acres of free land for each immigrant family, 10 acres for a single adult, who came to the Black Republic. In the early 19th century, Liberia evoked mixed images in the minds of black Americans. At that point Liberia was packed to the brim with black families who left the United States in search of a better way of life, only to later return to their ancestral homeland of Africa. Page text.

As noted by researcher Washington Hyde, "Black Americans - who in the time of slavery lost their original languages and much of their original culture, gained a distinctly American, English-speaking Christian identity, and had no clear idea of precisely where in the wide continent of Africa their ancestors had come from - were perceived by the natives of Liberia as foreign settlers. Having an African ancestry and a black skin color were definitely not enough. Indeed, their settlement in Liberia had much in common with the contemporary white settlement of the American Frontier and these settlers' struggle with Native American tribes (...). The Liberian experience can also be considered as anticipating that of Zionism and Israel - with Jews similarly seeking redemption through a return to an ancestral land and similarly being regarded as foreign interlopers by its natives, the Palestinians . It would take Americo-Liberians a century and more to become truly accepted as one of Liberia's ethnic groups(...). All of which certainly contributed to most Black Americans rejecting the Back-to-Africa option and opting instead for seeking equal rights in America."

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