Oration Delivered at the Barclay Training Centre, on the One Hundred Fourth Anniversary of the Independence of Liberia, July 26, 1951 by Honorable Oscar S. Norman, B.A., Provincial Commissioner, Liberian Hinterland
Mr. President, Fellow Citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Over a long period of time our kith and kin were torn from their previous environment and carried to America. Here they found themselves grouped in homesteads and on the plantations of those who became their masters. Here, thousands of miles away from Africa, in a new world, in a new environment, a new life had to be formed and was formed in the pattern of the new world. In this new world, the Africans began to take up the Christian religion, to fall into the labor pattern demanded by the needs and customs of the new world, to fit themselves as best they could into all the mores of the new world.
These unfortunate Africans did not all represent the lower level of life in their original homes, according to the opinion of a certain group of Liberians.
It is a display of gross ignorance of the study of the history of slavery of our race for anybody to advance the idea that only the lower class of our kith and kin were torn from West Africa. In the capture process, Professor Melville Herskovits of Northwestern University tells us, there is no proof of selectivity: that the two most important methods of procuring African slaves were kidnapping and capture, and that in these methods it should be perfectly clear to conclude that there could not have been handicaps of the higher-ups or the lower class escaping the slavers. Dr. Herskovits concludes by saying:
“There is, in fact, substantiating historic evidence in the first available accounts of the new world slavery that these upper classes were represented among the slaves, where descriptions are given of the deference paid by some slaves to others who, for them, represented their rulers in Africa.”
For three hundred years these sons and daughters of Africa, sons and daughters of great Kings, sons and daughters of common men captured in war or kidnapped while on the outskirts of towns, labored on the plantations of their masters. Ever toiling, ever sweating under the burden of sacks and bricks and logs and, like the children of Israel in ancient Egypt, ever waiting for the day of deliverance. In all their trials, in their tribulations, they developed a “Simple trusting faith” in God; they also developed hardihood, endurance, patience and moral courage that well fitted them for the arduous difficult task of founding a Nation.
And now they return home. In the divine economy of God, after the period of schooling was all over, after passing through the refining crucible which exhibited the strength and beauty and force of a genuine, warm, unconquerable human character, the magnificent idea of founding a home somewhere in Africa for the American Negros was conceived by prominent leaders of the United States of America. The Zeal, the eloquence, the elevated and fervent devotion and of exalted liberality with which those great men labored for the founding, upholding and welfare of this Republic can never be over-emphasized.
One hundred and four years ago, today, our forefathers dared to sail upon the turbulent seas of Nationhood, a ship of State patterned after that of the United States of America. One hundred and four years ago, today, twenty-five years after the founding of the Colony of Liberia, the founding Fathers proudly proclaimed to the world in Declaration of Independence:
“The Native African bowing down with us before the Alter of the living God declare that from us, feeble as we are, the light of Christianity has gone forth: while upon that curse of curses, the slave trade, a deadly blight, has fallen as far as our influence extends”.
What a magnificent accomplishment within such a comparatively short time in shedding the light of Christianity, the light of abundant life, of spiritual consciousness, and of truth, the abiding truth which makes all men free, among their kith and kin! What a dynamic resolution to arrest the deadly blight of the slave trade!
Fellow Citizens, it is with these resolutions and moral courage the founding fathers, of our Nationhood accepted the inevitable challenge of establishing a brotherhood here which would include the “Native Africans” they met, that would rest upon the sure foundation of the “simple trusting faith in God” – the Fatherhood of God. With these resolutions they courageously and proudly accepted the challenge of unifying, by educational and cultural expansion in Western Civilization, the tribal element they met here. The unifying and protective hand was practically extended. And on this unique occasion, your interest is solicited in our endeavor briefly to review.
THE NATIONAL TRENDS OF LIBERIA’S UNIFYING PROCESS
Our fathers, the founding fathers, had dreams. Entirely thrown upon their own resources and deprived of aid either from the United States or the Colonization Society, which were jointly responsible for its creation as a Colony, left to fight on one hand the unfriendly tribes and the jungles, and on the other hand, the determined and almost constant aggressions of foreign Nations upon their territory, these men of unsurpassed courage and determination to be free men had dreams of building a vast African State, free, sovereign and independent.
With the small population of about 2,790 American Negroes, the hopeful leaders of the young Nation first looked to the New World for human resources. But an opportunity for another outlook on the possibility of eventually drawing on the human resources of the native population must have been apparent when, as history recounts, many chiefs and several hundred tribesmen flocked to Monrovia to see the inaugural ceremonies of President Roberts, January 3, 1848. The Missionary spirit which started in colonial days continued. Every prominent citizen took into his family native children for training in Christian principles and in the cultivation of Western culture and civilization. But as a whole the Roberts administration, however, was deeply concerned by force of circumstances with the development of friendly relations with foreign Nations and in making treaties of territorial acquisition with neighboring chiefs.
The administration of President Benson became interested in the Interior of Liberia. His adventures as a trader gave him considerable experience in the conditions of the hinterland. His object was to penetrate the vast forest of Liberia to the uncharted and unknown regions beyond and to have knowledge of the conditions of the people thereof.
Early in the year, Messrs. Seymour and Ash were sent by the President in this quest which lasted for six months. These explorers went as far as the great mountain mass of Nimba where the Cavalla River takes its source. This exploration widely exposed the possibility of extending the borders of Liberia and of also drawing on the great human resources of the interior.
President Warner followed the trends of his predecessors which eventually crystalized into policy of unifying the natives into the body politic of Liberia. In 1865, he declared that the human resources of the interior could be eventually developed into useful citizens and that the proper orientation of their life was the responsibility of the leaders of State.
In pursuance of this policy, with financial assistance from Henry Schiefflin, the Warner administration encouraged the exploratory expedition by Mr. Benjamin Anderson of the hinterland in the year 1868.
This famous Liberian Explorer travelled through Bopolu over the Bo and Kpo mountain ranges through the great dense jungle areas of Ziggida to the stretch of high, healthy grasslands with dry and cool atmosphere. Treaties and understandings were made with the chiefs he met to place their territories within the limits of Liberia. To cope with the consequent problems which would be involved in the accomplishments of this idea an establishment of Government was created by the administration of President Payne which gradually developed into the Interior Department. This National outlook which gave birth to this new Department was decidedly a new turn in the trends of the unifying process.
During the administration of President Gardiner, 30 years after the inauguration of Presidents Roberts, various tribal leaders had risen in power and others fallen in importance. New racial divisions had displaced those with whom President Roberts had made treaties 29 years before and the entire tribal characteristics of the land had undergone some change. The Americo-Liberian population now numbered a little over 10,000 had been increased by fresh accession of Negroes from the United States who were mainly distributed about the St. Paul River. A rather foolish system of caste was being developed between the Christian Negroes from America and the Natives of Liberia.
The second expedition of Benjamin Anderson in the year 1874 had little favorable effect on this adverse trend, and there developed a plug in the unifying process.
But all leading Statesmen and leaders of thought had not bowed down to Baal. In the year 1882 Dr. Robert B. Richardson, one of the outstanding leaders of thought sounded most clearly and most loudly the trumpet in his magnificent sermon entitled: “The Gospel Net of Liberia”. This venerable man of God and perhaps Liberia’s greatest educator, for many years President of Liberia College, said:
“We have been for years building up a nation and the kingdom of Christ here along the beach. We have been, both metaphorically and literally fishing in shallow water. We have stuck to our narrow and petty interest. We have thought that Liberia was to exist and grow only for the advantage of a few Colonies from America. We turn our backs upon the vast seas of human souls and illimitable ocean of influence and power on the continent. The result: We have toiled here for more than 36 years and have taken nothing, but are losing the supply of bait which has been furnished us through Providence. The providential command now comes to us to launch out into the deep. Turn away from your narrow ideas of building up a little State exclusively from the House of Bondage. Abandon your contracted notions of living for yourselves alone in this continent. Launch out into the deep sea of humanity.”
Again, on another occasion, in one of his reports on the operation of Liberia College as President thereof, to the Board of Trustees, this great scholar said:
“Seriously, it should be remembered that the responsibility of elevating and developing the aborigines is ours by Providence. We cannot shirk it without being culpable; and if we be so selfish as to shirk it, then we surely do not believe that ancient instrument called the Declaration of Independence; and belying that we undermine our National fabric. God forbid that the present Actors of the Nation should be so guilty.”
It is interesting to observe here that Bishop Ferguson, Dr. G.W. Gibson, Dr. Edward W. Blyden and many other prominent Statesmen strongly joined in blowing the trumpet in urging a continuation of the unifying process.
The voice of these great men was heard. After 1880 the process was vigorously resumed by the Leaders of State.
President Cheeseman endeavored to strengthen the position of Government among the Kru Tribe in 1983, to put an end to foreign intrigues by securing declarations, on the part of the chiefs, to adhesion to the Government of Liberia.
President Coleman favored vigorous measures in bringing the tribes of the hinterland under the effective control of Government, and in 1900 commenced to open the Millsburg-Bopolu road to free, unrestricted travel and to commercial intercourse. He attempted to carry the influence of Liberia into the Northern regions of the Hinterland. When he was forced to repulse an attack planned against him in Suehn in his attempt to carry out his policy, some members of his Cabinet became alarmed. They, together with some of the Leaders of State were in favor of a policy of reconciliation towards the tribes of the hinterland. They felt that the policy of the President being so vigorous would eventually prove disastrous.
The domestic ideas of President Gibson, the successor of President Coleman, were gradually to carry the influence of Government in the hinterland and to exploit its mineral resources. To this end the West African Gold Concession Ltd. was established with mining rights to Montserrado and Maryland Counties, and also with rights to construct railway throughout Liberia. Between 1902 and 1904, he dispatched six expeditions to search the hinterland for minerals and to study tribal life to enable the forming of policy of reconciliation.
The administration of Arthur Barclay immediately began the policy of reconciliation towards the tribes of the Liberian Hinterland. He proceeded to hold at Monrovia a Convention of Chiefs and headmen from the hinterland. Other meetings of Kru and Grebo men of authority followed, and missions under native commissions were dispatched into the interior. These conferences and missions served to establish the influence of government; to greatly improve trade relations between the Americo-Liberians and the interior people; to carry the flag further interior-ward, and to prevent tribal wars.
President Barclay struck the keynote of his policy of domestic government when he stated that he considered all Negroes from the sea coast to the interior as Liberians. This gave more than effective answer to the French claim that the lack of occupation was noticeable on account of absence of Americo-Liberian Settlements in the hinterland.
During this administration, and a little prior to it, marriages between descendants of the pioneer fathers and civilized tribal citizens were encouraged as an important factor in the unifying process. Mr. L.A. Grimes, nephew of the President, married a Vai girl; Dr. B.W. Payne, a polished, educated Bassa man , a girl from a leading family in Barnesville ; Sandi Roberts, a Vai man, the grand- daughter of former Vice President Thompson of Maryland County; Rev. T.M. Gardiner, a Vai man, a girl from one of the leading families of Maryland County; Mr. Willie Tubman, Sr., of Cape Palmas, a Gola girl, and popular “Doc” Cooper, a Bassa girl, his first wife.
President Arthur Barclay’s second wife was a Grebo girl, the mother of the wife of former President Edwin Barclay.
Trained, educated tribal men were being brought into government services. By political arrangement a permanent seat was given to the Grebo Tribe within the County of Maryland in the Legislature; T.E. Beysolow was elected to the House of Representatives from the then Cape Mount Territory, and Mr. N.B. Seton became Professor of English in Liberia College.
President Daniel E. Howard found it expedient to resist the Kru Coast uprising against government control. He travelled through the interior of Cape Mount with some members of his Cabinet, crossed the Lofa River into the Gorjey country and came to Brewerville through the Lofa-Gola areas. It was a good-will mission; and he held conferences with the chiefs of several tribes. Following the policy of President Barclay, he established more Military posts and increased the number of administrative officials throughout the hinterland to ensure peace and order. And for the first time in the history of the country he appointed a civilized tribal man in the person of Dr. B.W. Payne in the Cabinet.
The King Administration met the hinterland population well under government control, with well established civil and military organizations. He devoted his time in building a network of motor roads to improve communications; he established and maintained public schools with qualified teachers at every district headquarter. He appointed Dr. Payne and subsequently Momolu Massaquoi, who married during the Howard administration a great grand-daughter of famous and celebrated Elijah Johnson, into his Cabinet. He placed Honorable T.E. Beysolow on the Supreme Court Bench as Associate Justice.
In the political campaign of 1923,when the leaders of the True Whig Party requested President King to accept another nomination as President of Liberia, This great Apostle of the unifying process said he would only accept it provided they have Honorable H. Too Wesley of the Grebo Tribe, then Senator representing Maryland County, as his running mate. The campaign slogan was “no Wesley no King”, and in May 1923 Honorable Wesley was elected Vice President of Liberia and served a term of four years. What a progressive and revolutionary stride in the unifying process!
President King was the first President of Liberia to travel throughout the Western and Central Provinces. He held a general council of chiefs at Suehn in 1923, at Saniquellie in 1925 and at Kakata in 1929. His travel and councils enabled him to see how the tribal man moves and has his being in his own home; to know his peculiar problems relating to his social and economic life so as to form an idea of the method government could adopt to ameliorate the adverse conditions. Law and Administrative Regulations were made for governing the interior.
In 1926 the Firestone Plantations Company was brought into being which offered employment and the advantage of skill labor to thousands of the interior people, thereby increasing their living standard.
President Edwin Barclay furthered the unifying program of President King. His administration inherited a situation of an international character which decidedly had an unsavory influence over the relation between government and the tribal people. It therefore became necessary for him to travel twice throughout the interior and many parts of the county jurisdiction. He held conferences with the chiefs and people of each district and made adjustments and decisions which confirmed their rights as citizens, guaranteed them further protection against oppression by administrative officials, assuring them that their well-being is a concern of government.
In the Administrative Regulations of 1931 and 1937, Edwin Barclay reorganized the hinterland jurisdiction into three provinces and each province into three districts; created the office of Provincial Commissioner; established the systems of Tribal authority in tribal government and the Indirect Rules whereby commissioners “administer tribal affairs through tribal chiefs who govern freely according to tribal customs and traditions so long as these are not contrary to law, regulations or the public interest,” and ensured the permanent character of the tenure of office of chiefs.
In 1931 the Administration found it expedient to suppress the Sasstown uprising against the authority of government, caused by some unprincipled persons. The settlement of matters which followed the end of hostilities also resulted into the Sasstown people having representation in the House of Representatives, and Honorable Stephen S. Togba was the first civilized Kru man the True Whig party elected to that post.
During this administration Honorable Nete Sie Brownell of the Grebo Tribe was elevated to the Cabinet as Attorney General after serving as Circuit Judge and Solicitor General.
Towards the close of the first century of our existence, there loomed on the National horizon William V.S. Tubman, President of Liberia. He has not only taken a drastic right turn in the trends of the unifying process, but has also made a vigorous march towards the realization of the hopes and aspirations of the Founding Fathers.
And with matchless moral courage, he has fearlessly destroyed for all times the barriers of dis-unity and disintegration between the two major elements of Liberia, affording equal, just and fair opportunity to all alike.
President Tubman has travelled more extensively in the interior than any of his predecessors. He visits each Province yearly and holds councils with the chief and people thereof with a view to observing whether they are being fairly and justly treated by administrative officials who are charged to see that they are not subjected to undue treatment that is not legal and just.
His Executive Councils held in 1945 at Juarzon, Salala, Sanniquellie and Zorzor, and those in Tchien and Webbo in 1946, also covered decisions which settled definitely the long vexing tribal land problems, the President declaring that every tribal man has the inherent right to hold land in sufficient quantity for farming and other necessities. He clearly and strongly emphasized that no tribal man shall be deprived of any right guaranteed to citizens by Law without due process of Law and that his grievances must be speedily heard and fairly adjusted by Interior Officials.
These considerations have won for him the unbounded gratitude of tribesmen throughout Liberia. As a practical token thereof President Tubman has been made by the Porror Zoes Society and DaZoes of the hinterland Grand Master of the Ancient Porror Society and has been given the ancient token of authority. This is a consideration which no President and no civilized man have ever enjoyed in Liberia and West Africa. It is a manifestation of the implicit confidence tribesmen have in President Tubman.
Intermarriage between the two elements is now common and ordinary event.
Within the seven and halve years of President Tubman’s Administration, the entire hinterland has been connected at strategic centers by motor roads and airstrips; public schools, offering free education, fairly staffed, have been established nearly in each Chiefdom of the interior; government operated clinics, practically offering free service to tribes people, have been installed in every main section of the interior and, finally, the tribal man has been granted legislative representation.
These accomplishments, under the progressive leadership of President Tubman, the greatest Apostle of the Unifying Process, have
- Established harmonious economic, social and political order throughout the hinterland;
- Guaranteed to individual tribesmen a minimum standard of material welfare;
- Helped the tribal men in developing the gem complex and,
- Transformed the whole Nation into one united people.
And now the dreams of the Founding Fathers have come true. They and their descendants lived and worked and fought for generations to secure and maintain this heritage for all Africans from the sea to the interior of the land and also those of the Western World of African descend and other parts of Africa who would elect to join us in building this African State.
Today, educated and qualified men and women from the tribal element as well as naturalized citizens are being largely drawn upon to help work out the destiny of the Nation, and this we should do with grateful appreciation to those who have bequeathed this heritage to us in “blood, sweat and tears”. We here name a few for example: His Honor Martin Nemle Russell, a Grebo, is Chief Justice of Liberia, heading one of the three co-ordinate Branches of Government. Honorable E.C.B. Jones, of Yuroba-Grebo offspring, is Secretary of War. Honorable Nete Sie Brownell, a Grebo, served this Administration as Acting Attorney General and Postmaster General. Honorable M. Dukuly, a Mandingo, is Under Secretary of State and Honorable P. Spear, a Grebo, Assistant Postmaster General. Both of these gentlemen have acted as Heads of their respective Department. Professor N. V. Massaquoi, a Vai, is Chairman of the National Commission of Liberia to the UNESCO. Counsellor J. D. Beysolow, a Gola, is County Attorney for Montserrado County. His Honor George Cain, a Vai, is Circuit Judge and Honorable Frank Gailor, a Gola, is Superintendent for Grand Cape Mount county.
From the element of naturalized citizens, Honorable Walter F. Walker, an enterprising man has served as Secretary of Public Works and Utilities. Honorable Thomas E. Buchanan, is Assistant Secretary of Public Works and Utilities, and is now serving as Acting Secretary of the Department, during the absence of Secretary Duncan. Honorable T. W. Dupigny-Leigh, who served in former administrations as Hinterland and County Commissioner and Inspector of Revenues, is now diligently serving as Social Secretary to the President of Liberia. Rev. D. Larty is Post Master for Montserrado County and Mr. K. J. Adorkor,a Certified Accountant, is Travelling Auditor.
Today, fourteen out of 31 members of the House of Representatives are from the tribal element, and 2 out of 10 in the Senate.
Fellow citizens, let us on this unique occasion, resolve to keep inviolate and untrammeled the unity of all the people of the land that has now been achieved; let us continue to rally around our illustrious, brilliant and farsighted Captain of the Ship of State, a veritable man of Destiny who enjoys more than any of his predecessors the full confidence of the people, in his magnificent and selfless efforts to develop the human resources of the country, and in laying the sure and abiding foundation for Liberia to roll, roll forward into greater and broader destinies.