City Names Liberia Street for Ellen

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The city of Winston-Salem named Liberia Street for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a ceremony on Saturday in the city’s oldest black neighborhood, courtesy of a U.S. based Winston-Salem Journal.

Mayor Allen Joines read a proclamation naming the street “President Sirleaf Lane” to about 50 people who attended the ceremony, the dispatch said.

Many of those who attended are current or former residents of the Happy Hill Garden neighborhood.

The sign in Sirleaf’s honor is at the intersection of Liberia and Alder streets.

“She is a true definition of freedom, justice and equality for all people of Liberia,” Joines said of Sirleaf in the proclamation. President Sirleaf visited Winston-Salem this weekend as part of her trip to the United States for the U.N. General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York. She is the first foreign head of state to visit the city during Joines’ 15-year tenure as mayor.

In response, the President said it was a great honor to have Liberia Street named after her, adding, “I’ve resisted at home people naming things after me because I said, ‘you don’t do that when I am in office, do that when I leave office,’” Sirleaf said jokingly.

“Since this is not at home, I am pleased to accept it. It’s not only an honor for me, but also it’s an honor for the Liberian people,” she told the gathering.

Sirleaf Lane or Liberia Street was part of the Schumann plantation in the early 1800s. Dr. Friedrich Schumann freed his slaves in 1836, and they traveled to Liberia, where many freed blacks from the U.S. settled. Most of Happy Hill’s first settlers were former slaves who had lived or worked in the Moravian town of Salem.

In 1872, the freed slaves bought plots of land in the community that became known as “Liberia” and “Happy Hill.” By the 1920s, it was known mostly as Happy Hill. James Hunder, Sr., the president of Liberian Organization of the Piedmont, told the crowd that the naming of Liberia Street for Sirleaf was an historic moment.

“We gather here and stand on the broad shoulders of former slaves and former slave masters,” Hunder said.

He then announced a proposal to build a dormitory in Happy Hill for students from Liberia who would attend local universities and colleges. The project is his organization’s way to help educate Liberian students who would return to their country and help rebuild it.

Rence Callahan, a partner with Walter, Robbs, Callahan and Pierce, a local architectural firm, said the project would be a 20-bed, two-story house with office space. There is no timetable for construction, and the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont would lead efforts to pay for it, Callahan said.

The project would cost between US$1.75 million to US$2 million, he said.

Liberia, with a population of about 4.5 million people, suffered from a 14-year civil war followed by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, Hunder said. More than 250,000 died in the Liberian civil war that ended in 2003. A decade later, Liberia was ravaged by the Ebola epidemic that left more than 4,800 people dead.

President Sirleaf is credited with helping rebuild her country and maintaining peace after the war, Joines said.

She also thanked Hunder and the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont for their efforts to help Liberian students. After the ceremony, Sirleaf talked briefly about the possibility of Hillary Clinton being elected in November as the first female president of the United States.

“We look forward to working with female heads of state all over the world, including in the U.S.,” Sirleaf said. Apostle Edith Jones, the president of the Ecclesiastes Deliverance Center on Alexander Street, said she welcomed Sirleaf’s visit to the Happy Hill neighborhood.
—Courtesy of Winston-Salem Journal

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