President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has reminded Liberians that God, in His bountiful mercies and love, has given us the chance over and over to write the wrongs of the past.
“It was with the spirit and values of Christianity of our forefathers that Liberia was born to right the wrongs of the past, and build a great nation; but we still continue with the wrongs of hatred, injustice, lies, undermining, discrimination, wickedness, among others as a nation,” the President lamented.
She made the assertion at the 35th Anniversary Memorial Service for former officials of the William Richard Tolbert government who were killed on April 22, 1980 by firing squad on poles at the beach near the Post Stockage, the nation’s them maximum security prison.
The Memorial Service was held at the First Presbyterian Church on Broad and Johnson Streets.
William R. Tolbert, Jr., Liberia’s 20th President from 1971 to 1980, was killed in a coup d’état in the early hours of April 12, 1980, by 17 non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), led by then Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe.
By the end of that month, most of the cabinet ministers and senior officials of the Tolbert administration had been put on trial before a military tribunal and 13 of them sentenced to death by firing squad.
The 13 were publicly executed on April 22 at the South Beach, near the Barclay Training Center (BTC).
Only four of Tolbert’s cabinet ministers survived the coup and its aftermath. The were Liberia’s current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Public Works Minister Gabriel Johnson Tucker, Health and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Kate Bryant and Action of Development and Progress Minister Donzo.
In her solemn remarks, the Liberian leader said the country had drifted away from the values and spirit envisioned and implanted by the country’s forefathers over the years, and had opted to practice hatred, lies, undermining, injustices, discrimination and wickedness toward their fellow compatriots.
She then stressed the need for Liberians to work together individually and collectively for reconciliation, which she indicated must come from the heart and stay with each of us. Each Liberian must look at himself/herself in the mirror and say I have done my part to promote reconciliation,” she added.
“We have all individually and collectively sinned against God, and must therefore work to right the wrongs. I pray that God gives each of us the strength and courage to be a part of righting the wrongs committed throughout our existence as a nation,” she stressed.
This was why the government joined the mourners to pray to God and recommitted itself to go back to the thoughts of the forefathers to right the wrongs and make the country better.
In a special sermon delivered during the memorial service, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Liberia, Rev. Sando E. Townsend, reflected and recounted the events leading to the coup and the death of the former officials.
He indicated that the families have forgiven the perpetrators, but have not forgotten the event which led to the execution.
Rev. Townsend, son of E. Reginald Townsend, one of those killed on April 22, assured the mourning family members that men can only destroyed the body of a person but not the soul.
He assured his audience, which included the children, relatives and friends of the 13 executed officials, that the souls of the formers officials live on even with their physical deaths. He urged the bereaved families to remain hopeful that they will see their loved ones again on that great resurrection morning when Christ shall return to judge both the living and the dead.
He spoke from the text Romans 8:31, under the theme, “To God be the Glory.” Rev. Townsend urged the mourners to give God the glory for the lives and contributions their fallen relatives had made to the development of Liberia.
Ms. Cyvette Gibson, granddaughter of the late former Attorney General Joseph J.F. Chesson, one of those executed, in a Statement of remembrance, indicated that though their relatives died as government officials, their children, family members and friends most importantly remember them as fathers and loved ones and were keen on how all can now move forward as a nation.
The Memorial Service, held under the theme, “We Will Remember Them,” was attended by an array of government official led by President Sirleaf, children, family members, friends and loved ones of the deceased and religious leaders, including Christians and Moslems.
The 13 officials murdered on April 22, 1980 included: Cyril A. Bright, Joseph J.F. Chesson, Sr., C. Cecil Dennis, Jr., Richard A. Henries, Sr., Charles King and D. Franklin Neal, Sr.
Others were P. Clarence Parker III, James T. Philips, Jr., James A.A. Pierre, John W. F. Sherman, Frank J. Stewart, Sr., Frank E. Tolbert, Sr., and E. Reginald Townsend.
Also honored were President William R. Tolbert, Jr., Ex-Commander Spurgeon Capehart, Major General Emmett W. Cooper, Commander Varney E. Dempster, Captain Gabriel Moore, General Charles E. Railey, Jr., H. Carey Thomas, A. Benedict Tolbert, and Lieutenant “Railroad” Vesseley.