…In commemoration of Black History Month
By Abraham M. Keita
Someone once said that those who forget history are likely to repeat their mistakes. In this regard, I rather say, those who forget their struggled heroes only bask themselves in the sun rays of ignorance and ingratitude.
Given that it’s Black History Month, I sought to take a mental flight down the corridors of history, and there I could see the enthusiastically eloquent and enlightened remains of Plenyono Gbe Wolo.
It may have seemed rather a fictional encounter but I can hear his voice cutting through the vicissitude and mist of times reminding Liberia of his otherwise challenging, yet rewarding life.
Exhume Wolo’s remains and you will see his bones yearning his name to be etched in our national history and remembered as frequently as possible.
But no, the Liberian being sometimes proves to be a strange being. The Liberian being can remember the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Rihanna, Beyoncé, and so forth. But the Liberian being forgets men like Plenyono Gbe Wolo and William R. Tolbert Jr., another figure who proved to be ahead of his time, a steadfast Pan-Africanist, who believed that if Liberia or Africa could just recognize her potential, she would rise to the apex of prosperity and sit at the table of “world powers.”
The Liberian being has forgotten women like Angie Brooks Randolph, the first African and second woman chosen as the President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1969, and Irene Pupodee Nimpson, the first female killed during the Rice Riot of April 14, 1979.
How many of us still remember H. Too Wesley and Didwho Welleh Tweh? How many of us appreciate the efforts of King Sabsu, aka Boatswain, in securing the geographical space now called Liberia? The Liberian celebration of the achievements of others, devoid of the African or Liberian rubric, is one that fills me with astounding bafflement.
This, however, does not despise the exaltation of non-Liberians. It has become ever urgent to reminisce, without begrudge, the men and women who changed the course of our history. So in this short write out, I have endeavored to recount the times of Plenyono Gbe Wolo.
This is but a series of steps to celebrate great, illustrious Liberians. A nation thrives only when it recognizes and appreciates those on whose shoulders it has come thus far; when it flashbacks its past.
It is my hope that we will uproot the seed of forgetfulness that has germinated over time. At a time when the rest of the world posed little or no trust in the abilities of Africans to acquire education, Plenyono Gbe Wolo broke the glass ceiling.
He bulldozed a wall so few people would ever have done. He walked a path few men have been privileged to pass. In 1914, Wolo enrolled as the first Harvard College student from the African continent.
He went on to become a classmate of some prominent Americans including Archibald B. Roosevelt, son of America’s 26th President Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald M. Foster, a mathematician who worked on electronic filters for use on telephone lines.
His fellow graduates went became national heroes in their countries; some of them have monuments in their memories, others’ names given to streets, while many names are on buildings and schools.
As for Wolo, too little is known about him. Despite holding an unparalleled distinction and a stellar status in the pantheon of academic history, he is a known unknown. Nowhere in Liberia bears testimony to his fond memories.
Liberia, in a matter of speaking, has forgotten this cynosure and connoisseur, though he taught at Liberia College (now the University of Liberia). His counterpart from Sierra Leone, Christian Cole – the first Black to attend Oxford University, plays a significant role in that nation’s history; he has a prouder place in his country archives.
Throughout my school years – from elementary to senior high – I do not recall a single reference or mention of Plenyono Gbe Wolo in my history notes.
In fact, many Liberian students and history instructors are yet to come across, in our history books, his name. Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel once stated, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
This generation of Liberians, and by extension Africans, must begin to recognize and appreciate Wolo. We owe him a debt of gratitude.
Abraham M. Keita is a young Liberian high school graduate and campaigner for children’s rights and justice.