The demand by a few Marylanders, including some of their Legislative leaders and students, that Tubman University should be headed by a Marylander or southeasterner and not by a man from Nimba County, creates two wonders. The first is: What has a Liberian’s birthplace to do with being appointed to a position anywhere in Liberia?
The second wonder is: Have Marylanders forgot their greatest hero, President William V.S. Tubman? And how is this question relevant to the current controversy?
It is relevant because whatever one may say about Liberia’s longest serving President, only few will say that he was selfish. He was not. His very rise to power started when he was yet very young, son of a middle class family in Harper, sharing his clothes, food, shoes and pocket change with others. That made him popular already. And when he became a lawyer, he soon was known as “the poor man’s lawyer.” Young Tubman soon became charismatic.
Remember the slogan, “No Tubman, no Senator?” That was because in 1923 the True Whig Party “caucus,” created by President C.D.B. King, had handpicked its own senatorial candidate for Maryland, against the wishes of Marylanders. When the TWP refused to listen to them, they began singing a rallying song, “No Tubman, no Senator!”
The TWP backed down, and Vat, then only 28, was elected historically our youngest Senator.
It was also (remember?) the friendly and free-handed Senator Tubman that President King recruited in 1928 to lead the charge to get the Liberian Senate to ratify the Act to establish the Booker Washington Institute (BWI). The Senators, still angry over the 1926 agreement that gave Harvey S. Firestone one million acres to create Firestone Rubber Plantations Company, refused to pass the BWI Act. They contended that President King wanted to give the whole country over to the Americans. It was an American woman, Olivia Phelps Stokes, who donated the first seed money to establish BWI, and the founding
Principal was also an American, James Longstreet Sibley.
It was happy-go-lucky Senator Tubman, whiskey and cigar loving, that gathered his Senate colleagues around him and, within a few days the BWI Act was passed!
It was also the generous and selfless Tubman that convinced all the chiefs throughout the country to agree to unite as one people. His first Executive Council was held in Maryland County, followed by a series of others throughout the country that paved the way for the unification of Liberia.
And remember, too, that during the opening of each Executive Council, the people lined up with gifts for the President—white kola nuts, chickens and eggs, cows, country cloth, goats, sheep, fruits and vegetables. After each presentation, President Tubman called his Butler, Jimmy Barrolle, and whispered to him to triple or quadruple the cost of each gift, in crisp United States dollars for each giver. For a tiny pan of kola nuts, for example, Tubman would give US$50 or US$100, and for a cow, at least US$1,000!
The people loved him for that. And what was his reward? They kept him in power for 27 years – until his death in July 1971!
Most of today’s Maryland Legislators were not yet born when Tubman made a decision that these same legislators and TU Maryland students of today would have vigorously opposed. President Tubman agreed with Episcopal Bishop Bravid W. Harris to transfer Cuttington College and Divinity School, which had been closed since 1929, from Harper, Cape Palmas, to Suakoko in the then Central Province, now Bong County.
Bishop Harris promised the President that should he agree to the transfer, Cuttington would open an agricultural training program to train Liberian farmers.
President Tubman readily agreed, and that is how Cuttington, founded in Cape Palmas in 1889 during the episcopacy of Bishop Samuel David Ferguson, was transferred to Suakoko in 1945.
Why are Marylanders making a fuss about Dr. Wonkeyor’s selection as TU President? Yes, they say Marylanders are fussy and warlike people. But not all Marylanders are fussy and warlike. Mother Mary Brownell is not a fussy woman; neither was her eminent father, Counselor Nete Sie Brownell. Nor was
Bishop Ferguson, who ran the Episcopal Diocese as its first Liberian bishop from the 1880s to 1916. None of the Collins brothers were fussy people. The Collinses, including Ben Too, an eminent civil servant, T. Gyibili, a prominent lawyer and onetime Circuit Judge, and Alfred Collins, a renowned musician, left Maryland for Monrovia in the early 1930s and made great names for themselves. These were not fussy people. Grey Johnson was a Grebo man from Maryland who ended up marring into a prominent Careysburg family; so did his niece, Clemenceau Urey’s mother, who married a high yellow Urey, Benoni’s uncle. Mr. Johnson, like many other Careysburg men, became a successful Careysburg rubber farmer.
The Legislators and people of Maryland need to know this little history of themselves and their ancestors and pay homage to them, by accepting Dr. Wonkeyor as TU President, as a mark of the respect to their greatest son, William V.S. Tubman, who did more than anyone else to make Liberia one united country.