Liberia: Why Africa Matters!
..... Amidst the Biden-Africa Summit — 195 Years Later
Dr. Artemus W. Gaye
In 1788, Africa was indeed entering the second century of the effect of the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade, when an African prince, Abdul Rahman of Fulani heritage, and some of his men were captured on a battlefront at a frontier, dragged to the Gambia, and placed at the hole of the Slave ship, The Africa.
A 6000 miles journey to slavery, ended in Washington, Mississippi, just five minutes, from the Spanish town of Natchez, on the Mississippi River, where he and his closest aide, Samba were sold in August of 1788 for US$930 as properties to a dirt-poor farmer, Thomas Foster. He was mocked and called “Prince” for claiming royal status, pleading that his father, the King of Fouta Djallon, Almamy Ibrahima Mowdy Sori, would pay any ransom to free both Samba and himself.
Thomas Foster, after many years, came to the realization that indeed, Prince was the son of a royalty, after his unlikely meeting with an Irish surgeon, Dr. John Coates Coxat a Sunday market day outside of Natchez. It was 25 years earlier that the prince and his family in Africa rescued this surgeon, affording him the highest honor, when the doctor was abandoned and left for dead by his crew and ship on the African shores.
This reunion of Cox and Rahman triggered a series of appeals to free the African prince, who had then fathered nine children--four boys and five girls, including eight grand-children, by an extraordinary woman, a first generation African-American, Dr. Isabella Rahman, born and raised at Edgefield, South Carolina, the hometown of the Southern Democrats and the Confederate manifestos, including of recent, the segregationist, the late Strom Thurmond of the Democratic and Republican Parties respectively.
Isabella was indeed a special woman, who taught herself the act of medicine, called the “Doctress” for her role in saving lives and being the chief obstetrician of the region. No wonder, on February 22, 1828, when the US Government freed the prince, through an appeal by the King of Morocco, Abd Rahman II, a namesake, complications arose. She was still enslaved and Abdul Rahman could never see himself parting from his beloved because freedom meant nothing without her…as she wished “to follow him to the end of the earth.” Within 24 hours, a sum of US$293 was raised to free Isabella, an arrangement Foster reluctantly accepted.
And so on April 8, 1828, the couple departed for the North, visiting several cities-- Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Hartford, New York, Washington DC, and eventually Baltimore. A meeting with Thomas Gallaudett, the Black Masons of Boston, the Tappan's brothers, one of the wealthiest Americans, and finally an arranged visit at the White House between President John Quincy Adams, a meeting of the minds.
Interestingly, on a rainy day of May 15, 1828, the prince paid a special visit to President Adams, setting the agenda for America’s new vision for Africa on slavery nearly 195 years ago, on the second floor of the White House. Except for a few edited statements in the journal of the president, what was discussed between these two men was sadly redacted by the president’s son, Franklin Adams. Here were men of similar pasts--tied to political, economic, and social statuses--the son of a king and sitting president, whose father, like King Ibrahima Sori, was also the second leader of the USA.
In his dairy, the president, writes, “Abdel Rahman is a Moor, otherwise called Prince…who has been forty years a slave in this country…” Lamentably, the president didn’t help the prince in granting his request to free his children, the fact that the prince was not from Morocco, America’s oldest diplomatic partner, but from Fouta Djallon, West Africa, therefore, of no political value to his reelection campaign bid of 1828 against Andrew Jackson who would later, resoundingly defeat him in November of 1828. Was his political calculation wise or not? Is the Biden Summit reflective of the nation’s historical decisions about Africa as was done in 1828? We continue…
Fearing the worst, aware that he and Isabella could be resold after the inauguration of Jackson, the Southerner of the pro-slavery position, the prince and 151 passengers ( Repatriated Africans) sailed on February 7, 1829, from the Chesapeake Bay towards the Atlantic Ocean for Africa and after 37 days, landing in Monrovia, Liberia, where they would later form Africa’s first independent nation created by Repatriated Africans, Liberated Africans and the Natives on July 26, 1847, and eventually championing the liberation of all of Africa.
The purpose of Liberia, according to both the USA and the American Colonization, was to rid the USA of its unwanted Black population, while the Tappan's brothers were more interested in genuine commerce between Africa and the USA. The AfricanPrince was to serve as the conduit, without exploitation of Africa, a vision, previously championed by Paul Cuffee, a great sailor and Pan-Africanist, who himself, met President James Madison at the White House on May 2, 1812, to share his vision of “The Back To Africa Movement.”
This week, December 13-15, 2022, amidst the Biden-African Summit as was done in 2014 during the Obama-Biden administration, history and symbolism are powerful and meaningful lenses to gauge the present, in light of the current global uncertainties and realignments.
Could this summit bear the necessary fruits as articulated by the Conference For Africa (CFA), a conglomeration of Diaspora Africans of mainly African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans, who literally wrote the White paper for this conference? Is this a far reasonable agenda beyond Abraham Lincoln’s White House meeting of August 4, 1862, with five Black leaders on the issues of slavery, colonization, and the Black race?
As I reflect on this time in history, knowing that the very Smithsonian Museum of African-American History, which has in its collection, the only drawn Portrait of Prince Abdul Rahman, a place chosen for the commemoration of the 195th Freedom Anniversary of the Couple and the Prince’s famous meeting with Quincy Adams, (postponed to February 2023) we are pleased that it will now serve as the opening of the Biden-African Summit, whilst, the irony that African-American descendants of the prince and Dr. Isabella from Natchez, Mississippi, will for the first time travel and visit with the kith and kin of the former ruling family of their enslaved 7th generation grandfather at Fouta Djallon (present day Guinea), reuniting with his family and relatives.
From Dec 18-28, 2022, Beverly Adams and Karen Chatman, both born and raised n Natchez, Mississippi, will be joined by me for a historic visit and a symposium in Conakry and a tour of Fouta Djallon, fulfilling the Year of The Return, as their ancestors returned to Liberia but couldn't make the historic journey to the old kingdom.
Just as the CFA has done to orchestrate the Biden-Africa Summit in DC, with H.E. George Manneh Weah of Liberia and other African leaders speaking at the Smithsonian on Day One, on African Diaspora and Engagement, it is our sincere hope that this will be beyond photo-ops but a genuine engagement for Africa and its vast Diaspora. May the spirit of our ancestors live and guide us in the present because history matters!
Dr. Artemus W. Gaye is the author of several articles and books, most recently, Beyond Boundaries and A Tossed American Pie, The controversial Creation of Liberia by White Americans, Repatriated Africans, and Liberated Africans. His new book comes out this week, Dr. Isabella Rahman and The African Prince of Fouta Djallon in both English and French. He holds a doctorate from Loyola University of Chicago since 2011. He leads a delegation to Guinea and Liberia this week in fulfillment of the 1829 return of the prince but dying in Liberia.