We today borrow this quote from the first Inaugural Address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the celebrated 32nd United States President, delivered on March 4, 1932. Our reason: to encourage BBC and Associate Press Correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh to return home from the United States.
Jonathan suddenly left the country a week and a half ago following an outburst against him by President George Weah, accusing this seasoned and longtime Liberian journalist of being “against me” — the President. But Jonathan bravely covered the entire 14-year civil war, staying right here on the ground.
This showed that Jonathan was—and we insist is—a brave man. So why did Jonathan feel he had to flee President George Weah and his passionate followers? Let us take a brief look into history, including the history of the very country to which Jonathan has run.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for the American presidency during the most difficult period in the history of the American economy, occasioned by the crash of New York’s Wall Street in October 1929. This immediately led to economic collapse in the USA and worldwide.
Amidst this greatest of all economic crises, President Roosevelt, courageous, determined, strong and visionary, told the American people in his first Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
With that fearless mindset and spirit, President Roosevelt went on to tackle the Depression headlong and, in the end, not only revived the American economy but inspired economic recovery throughout the world.
More than that, he led America into becoming the world’s first “super power” — feeding itself, with the capacity to feed the world, with the world’s strongest economy and the first nation to make the world’s then most powerful military weapon, the atomic bomb.
All of this was the result of President Roosevelt’s INDOMITABLE COURAGE and FEARLESSNESS. President Roosevelt’s words were later to inspire British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Amidst Hitler’s rapid militaristic expansion in Europe and beyond in the early 1940s, Prime Minister Churchill, in one of his many dynamic and eloquent wartime speeches, told the House of Commons on March 4, 1940, “We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost maybe.
We shall FIGHT on the beaches. We shall FIGHT in the fields and in the streets. We shall FIGHT in the hills. We shall NEVER surrender!” Those words, and another speech entitled “Blood, Sweat, Toil, and Tears,” inspired the British people and later, with Churchill’s long cherished desire for American intervention in the Second World War, the Allied Powers—Britain, France, the USA and other nations, including little Liberia—defeated the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and WON World War II!
Why do we have to go so far into history to encourage Jonathan Paye-Layleh to come back home? Because it is sometimes useful to remind people of challenges others have faced in their personal and national lives, in order to put courage and fearlessness into proper and helpful perspective.
But coming closer home, we ask Jonathan one question: Have you ever heard of Albert Porte? Yes, Jonathan surely has, for in the 1980s as one of the Daily Observer typesetters, Jonathan frequently saw Albert Porte, who as Chairman of the Board of the Liberian Observer Corporation (LOC), was always in the newspaper’s office on Crown Hill, Broad Street.
That is where Jonathan learned to become a journalist. None of us knew that as he sat there typing the Observer journalists’ stories, he was learning the Journalism craft. The Observer closed its doors in late June, 1990 when, as the war intensified, it became impossible for any business to operate.
By the time the newspaper suffered its third and finally fatal arson attack, the Best family were in The Gambia preparing to launch their second newspaper, the Gambian Daily Observer. Why is Albert Porte relevant here? Because he suffered for decades under Liberia’s historically most powerful President — William V.S. Tubman.
Tubman jailed Mr. Porte twice, fired him numerous times from his poor teaching job, and blasted him in many letters. But Albert Porte never left Liberia. He later suffered under Tubman’s successor, President William R. Tolbert, Jr., whose powerful brother Steve Tolbert, Minister of Finance, sued Mr. Porte for libel over his pamphlet, “Liberianization or Gobbling Business.”
Steve won the case in Liberian courts! Mr. Porte visited then Attorney General Lawrence A. Morgan and demanded that he, Albert Porte, be arrested and imprisoned because he, Albert Porte, could not pay the US$275,000 the court had ruled that he pay Steve Tolbert in libel damages.
The Attorney General asked Mr. Porte to leave his office. Mr. Porte refused, insisting that he, Albert Porte, belonged in jail since he could not pay Steve Tolbert! At that point, Minister Morgan called in his security and ordered him to escort Mr. Porte out of his office.
Jonathan, President Weah is not and may never become as powerful as President Tubman. So come home, Jonathan, and defend your rights.
President Weah knows that he cannot persecute the Liberian press. We have already fought and won the battle for free press in Liberia!