The Case of Dr. Elizabeth Davis Russell

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Who doesn’t remember O. Natty B. Davis, the flamboyant but highly respected lawyer from Maryland County, who rose to become Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia?

He is remembered as a man of principle and that is why his own fellow Marylander, President W.V.S. Tubman, relieved His Honor O. Natty B. of his seat on the Supreme Court bench.  What happened?

Remember the political crisis that engulfed Liberia in 1955, when the True Whig Party and the Tubman government accused the party of former President Edwin Barclay, the Independent True Whig Party (ITWP), of an assassination plot against President Tubman?  The night of the alleged plot was June 22, 1955 when shots were fired in the direction of the President at the Executive Pavilion.  Most members of the ITWP were arrested, given a nut (means stark naked) parade through streets of Monrovia and imprisoned.  That was when David Coleman, son of President Wilmot David Coleman of Clay Ashland, Montserrado County, and David’s son John, who had just returned home with his degree in Civil Engineering, were brutally murdered and their bodies displayed for days at the Barclay Training Center.

The Tubman government subsequently charged ITWP members with treason and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

When the government’s lawyers presented their case to the high court, several of the Associate Justices detected that the case had no merit.  But it was outspoken ‘Hishonner’ O. Natty B. Davis that put this forthright and stunning question to the prosecution: “What kind of nonsense have you all presented us here?”

President Tubman heard about O. Natty B.’s question and, fearing that with that kind of skepticism the government might have lost the case, summarily relieved Associate Justice Davis of his post.

This eminent and courageous son of Maryland of Liberia, O. Natty B. Davis, was the man who fathered this distinguished, highly educated daughter of Liberia, Dr. Elizabeth Davis Russell.

Her elder brother, Pryde Davis, a product of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI),  became a civil engineer; while their younger brother, named after the father, is a former Chair of the National Investment Commission (NIC).

We can fully understand why the Liberian Senate would be concerned about Dr. Davis Russell’s American passport.  That is the way it is in many developed countries where highly educated people of other nationalities, Liberian included, are usefully engaged in leading professional positions.  The people want to know whether you‘re one of them and so one has to become a citizen to advance up the leadership ladder on whatever job.

This is precisely why the Daily Observer has been advocating for Dual Citizenship.   Look at the remarkable way Dr. Russell ran the Tubman Technical College—so well that she was able to transform it into  southeastern Liberia’s first  university.  Yes, there existed  in the distant past, Liberia’s  second  institution of higher learning in the same Maryland County called Cuttington College and Divinity School.   But it closed in 1929 because of the Great Depression.  But Cuttington became a university only a few years ago, long after it had been transferred from Harper, Maryland County (1945).  So the making of southeast Liberia’s first university was no mean accomplishment, and Dr. Russell, with the staunch backing of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is credited for that. 

It was probably for this reason that the Liberian leader was courageous enough to nominate her to be the new Minister of Education.  The President reckoned that the lawmakers would have serious difficulty turning down this great Liberian daughter and sister.

As an accomplished educator who ran Tubman University so successfully, Dr. Russell might just be the person to help fix our shattered education system.  Our students can hardly pass a university entrance exam, as was shown in the past two years when over 40,000 applicants flatly failed the Uinversity of Liberia (UL) entrance.  Now look what has happened to the West African Examination Council Exams.  WAEC Head, John Y. Gayvolor, has described last year’results as “appaling.”

Our education system needs help and needs it NOW! We are sure the Senate has no problem with Dr. Davi-Russell’s qualifications.  Perhaps the compromise could be for her to do what others did in the past—to reclaim her Liberian citizenship.  We are sure that if that is done, the Senate would give her the green light.   

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