By Tina S. Mehnpaine
Nestled in a triangular plot, at the intersection of Camp Johnson Road and Warren Street, Monrovia, the grave of Liberia’s third President, the late Daniel Bashiel Warner, has for years been abandoned, littered, little known by many and overgrown with weeds. Unlike the grave of Liberia’s 18th President, William V.S. Tubman, which is a monumental spectacle of marble, gleaming against the carefully manicured lawn on the west side of the famous Centennial Pavilion, located between Broad and Ashmun Streets, Monrovia, the grave of the late President Warner is far less imposing, almost obscure.
On the busy side street of Camp Johnson Road, street vendors use the fence of the late Warren’s gravesite is used as a display wall for their wares. The narrow entrance to the plot has no gate and renders the place open for those dumping trash and human waste.
On the bright side, at least Warner has a place that can be identified. Others, like Tubman’s successor, William R. Tolbert, Jr., are buried in a mass grave. But with a tombstone barely readable due to lack of care and no other literature onsite, who would know that the late President Warren was buried there, besides “normal-day” folks?
One such “normal-day” folk, Rufus S. Berry, has had this very issue on his mind for weeks and finally decided to do something about it. A financial professional and former president of the association of Liberians in California, USA, Berry enjoys and owns rare literature on Liberian history and heritage. Thus, on the matter with the late President Warner’s grave, he did not have to think twice.
In 2014, Berry made a donation of over US$20,000 worth of medical supplies and protective gears including Vacutainer tubes, syringes, face masks, surgical gloves and among others to the Government of Liberia, through the office of then Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, during the Ebola outbreak.
In 2018, Berry also donated US$20,000 worth of medical supplies to John F. Kennedy Hospital (JFK) in support of President George Weah’s Pro-pro agenda.
Over the last week, he put out a call to action on his Facebook page, for all who would take heed, to undertake a clean-up campaign of the late Warner’s gravesite.
“It is said we all die two deaths — we die the first time when breath leaves us, but we only truly die when someone no longer speaks our name or tells our story,” Berry wrote in a call to action on Facebook, to galvanize manpower for the much-needed cleanup exercise.
“He wrote our beloved national anthem, but we as a people have turned his final resting place on Camp Johnson Road into a dump site — yes, a dump site for a proud Liberian who gave us our beloved national anthem. On any national occasion, millions of Liberians would proudly display the Liberian flag and sing the National Anthem, yet we have failed to preserve his final resting place,” Berry said.
Daniel Bashiel Warner, who served as the 3rd President of Liberia (1864 to 1868), is also the composer of the nation’s National Anthem.
Prior to ascending to the presidency, Warner served as the 5th Vice President of Liberia under President Stephen Allen Benson from 1860 to 1864. Prior to this, he also served as the 3rd Secretary of state in the cabinet of Joseph Jenkins Roberts from 1854 to 1856.
Daniel B. Warner was an African-American, born on Hookstown Road in Baltimore County, Maryland, to a father who was a farmer and ex-slave who acquired his freedom one year before Warner was born.
Warner’s main concern as President was his government’s relationship with the indigenous Liberians, particularly those in the interior of the country; he organized the first expedition into the dense forest, led by Benjamin J. K. Anderson.
In 1868, Anderson traveled into Liberia’s interior to sign a treaty with the King of Koya. He took careful notes describing the peoples, the customs, and the natural resources of those areas he passed through, writing a published report of his journey.
By 9 a.m. on Saturday, January 18, 2020, over a dozen people had heeded Berry’s call and shown up to give the grave of the late President Daniel Bashiel Warner, a facelift. Some of those in attendance came from the Rotary Club of Monrovia. By 1 p.m., the grass was back to a respectable level and the grave itself white-washed, the cut-grass and garbage collected in bags and carted away. The tombstone, however, needed detailing — a project for another day.
In an interview with the Daily Observer ahead of the clean-up exercise, Berry said he was moved organize a cleanup of the historic gravesite because, from across the street, at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church where he worshipped every Sunday, the gravesite looked disgraceful for someone who served Liberia at the highest level and with distinction.
“100 hundred years from now, we will clean President George Weah gravesite too. We should be able to do the same, especially for the man who wrote Liberia’s National Anthem, President Daniel B. Warner,” Berry added.
“We, Liberians should able to make our country decent and pay respect to our leaders who have died. Liberians should look into themselves and question our patriotism to our beloved country and we should be able to proudly locate our past leaders. Liberians should be able to endorse and support tourism,” Berry noted.
Now he is thinking about sustainability, calling on well-meaning Liberians to join him to provide funding to help keep the gravesite clean from now on.