A History Lesson

The settlers who eventually signed up to be a part of the experiment, meanwhile, dreamed only of a free haven for all persons of African descent. But their idealism was hard to sustain on the Windward Coast. To the natives, the settlers, though they looked uncannily like themselves, were just another group of outsiders with hostile intentions. They called the newcomers the “black white men” and attacked their settlements. As one early settler explained in a letter to his former master in America, you can try to help the natives but “they still will be your enemy.” This was not entirely fair. The settlers did plenty of their own provoking. But the remark was revealing,as it was a sign that the erosion of the settlers’ idealism started almost concurrently with the experiment itself. The settlers, and later the Americoes, could never really decide whether the Africans were their long-lost brethren, heathens to be redeemed, or savages to be conquered. And in almost every instance, they put their survival over their ideals.

Not that every Liberian was determined to keep the native in his place, beyond the frontier or laboring for a pittance in settler households and on settler farms. Edward Blyden, Liberia’s greatest intellectual and one of the progenitors of black nationalism, condemned his countrymen for their reluctance to truly integrate with the natives. He thought that the Americoes were uniquely positioned to create a new kind of civilization, part African communalist traditions and part progressive Western thought. He even got one of his allies, Edmund Roye, elected president in 1870, though this had less to do with African solidarity than it did with the resentment the dark-skinned majority of poor Americoes, many of them fresh from slavery, had for the mulatto elite.

The native population wasn’t granted full equality, universal suffrage, until 1964.

Interestingly, it went into effect the same year Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which buttressed and protected the citizenship of disenfranchised Southern blacks, including distant relations of Liberia’s settler elite.

This is really getting boring