But only after Liberians had grown tired from koongosying (badmouthing) Tubman for denying them freedom of speech during his reign — all, except Albert Porte, that is!
By Atty. Keith Neville Asumuyaya Best
November 29 was only a few days away when this article was written, but young Liberians, wherever they could be found around the globe, already were excited about this year’s upcoming Christmas, New Year and Valentine festivities, that—judging by the excitement already on the ground here in Monrovia, the season had begun before the ink had dried on our sheets.
November 29 is indeed what jumpstarts the Christmas, New Year festive season; it is the birthday of the man most Liberians—young and old—for some reason, consider the best-loved of the nation’s 25 or more presidents: William Tubman was affectionately called: W.V.S.T., Vat, Borbor Shad, The Old Man, and other endearing names that he is today, still called and remembered by.
Did he have a great time? Of course he did! Should he have stayed in power that long? Maybe not! He could have ended up more loved, admired and missed than he is today, had he left the presidency earlier. That is to say, with his health intact—he could have gone on enjoying himself and all other blessings the good Lord may have had in store for him.
On the positive side, Tubman is best remembered for having brought Liberia into the 20th century, during his prime. In the process, Tubman ensured that Liberians enjoyed an unprecedented, (never before) high per capita income, (a fair monthly income for all); a feat that has not been equaled since.
THE EPITOME OF CHIC
Tubman had a way about him that encouraged others including potentates, (monarchs, rulers) to treat him like royalty. No Queen or princess—anywhere in the world—had anything on Tubman and his West-Indian consort, Antoinette Padmore Tubman, when it came to refinement, polish and elegance. Together, they set the stage for a power-duo—when it came to style and class as no other president and first lady on the continent would for a long time to come. After all, they were the first couple of the first independent republic on The Continent.
In the final days of this veritable African Camelot in typical African royal tradition, a poem was begun by this author—still in his teens—that anticipated the transition to a new era in the making. That poem ran out of steam after two verses, because of the lack of a trajectory, (course, flight or bullet direction) to take it beyond that point.
Just the same these two beginning verses that follow capture the “pomp and vanity” of a fading autocracy that Tubman and his entourage epitomized in the final days of the passing of that era—an era that a decade after his 1971 death—would fall into a military junta.
“HOW THE MILITARY CAME TO POWER”
That giant beast, the Elephant, (True Whig Party)
Over the land held sway;
He reveled in his power,
Great strength he did display.
He dreamed of years of plenty,
He feasted night and day.
In banks, beneath planks, in safes and graves,
He stashed his cash away.’’
And there, the poem brought itself to an unexpected and rude halt—for the time being! Why? There was nowhere else to go, and nothing to work with. What was needed was any activity that would dictate a continuation—a happening that would jumpstart a continuum, (a continuous extent or succession that produces or causes the next event that follows from one set in a series, and flows into the upcoming set, stage or phase of the same series. In other words, cause the poem to continue creating itself.
And then, President William V.S. Tubman passed away in London, in January of 1971. And immediately, the nation and people took up the old English refrain (catchphrase) ushering in the new king—along with fresh hope for the future—while ringing out the past in the same breath: “The king is dead, long live the king!” Almost at once, Liberians began koongosying, (bringing up some of the negatives) that spanned a little over a quarter of a century; not because Tubman was a bad president, no, he was not. But Liberians needed to get past a disappointing aspect of their existence: not having been able to speak their minds in over a quarter of a century!
Speaking now, was something they needed to do; but it would take time. They could not change a way of life overnight; they were going to have to keep chipping away at those straightjacket rules that Tubman had forced them to adopt and spend their lives obeying.
Tubman had had his way and, after passing away, it was only natural that—for however briefly—citizens would be returning to the status quo, (the way things had been) exercising a right they long had not enjoyed! But that was not the way Tubman’s cousin, Counselor Fulton Yancy, saw it.
It disturbed Fulton that people could change and shift back to the past—and so quickly, to make matters worse! Fulton wrote and published an article in one of the local newspapers in defense of our president who, by many, had been referred to as: the “poor man’s lawyer.” “A friend,” ‘the kind gentleman’, and other names of affection were added. Vat’s brother, Roosevelt, often referred to that dynamic duo as: “us two: good type,” Our uncle, the late Albert Porte, whose cousin, ‘Nettie (Antoinette Padmore was married to Vat, called Tubman “a wise man.
“DEED, NOT WORDS”
Fulton wondered and wanted to know why people wanted to take advantage of his cousin’s when they had kept their mouths shut over the final 27 years of Tubman’s life, that he spent in office—doing a lot of good, but wanted no one criticizing how he went about running the nation!
“Let Tubman Rest in Peace,” Fulton scolded; something we could all understand, given the shock and bereavement over so “indestructible” that giant of a man that Tubman had been—to himself and to many. How could I forget how my invalid sister, Sybil Best-Sieh, mother of Yvonne, Maureen, Rodney and George cried, after she heard the shocking news of Tubman’s death? That was the way Fulton felt, all things considered. And that is what the paper allowed him—to write, saying his piece.
As my Mother, Lilian Porte-Best, always said: “it was a free country and he had the right to say any damned thing he wanted—even if he wanted to use that right, to scold other people about using theirs—ran in the family, didn’t it?
IT WAS HIS RIGHT
And, indeed, it was: something that the Liberian people had gotten used to: telling each other “Hush you mouth,” when anyone tried to say anything negative about Tubman, while he was president. The walls seemed to have ears! And that was how it went, since Tubman seemed not to give a hoot for competition from other political aspirants. But why, had Fulton felt so hurt that people were speaking up—and out, following Tubman’s demise—something they had not done for ages?
It was almost as though Fulton had forgotten that the True Whig Party’s ‘motto’ had been and still remains: “Deeds, not Words!” That had not rung true during most of Vat’s life-time. Those he was serving—or should have been serving—had long forgotten how to speak out—certainly, not in front of their children—especially not in their presence. That could land them in trouble.
But that did not apply to Albert Porte! Like his younger sister, Lilian, Albert let Tubman know that indeed, this was a free country, and he was going to do any damned thing he wanted! Unfortunately, not too many—besides Albert Porte—are known to have made any serious attempt to correct anything he did not agree with.
DO NOT TOUCH MY PAYCHECK
“Do not cut my pay check for your True Whig Party operations,” Albert Porte had told President Tubman from the start. Unfortunately, Porte operated as an ‘army of one’—thus, under Tubman, and could do little more than write— publish his pamphlets—and go to jail under Tubman!
Albert Porte was not much of an organizer, and not too many people were ready for much activity during the William V. S. Tubman presidency, when Porte started going to jail, for challenging Tubman for amassing too much power in the presidency; Tubman also kept asking the Legislature to restore “emergency” powers to the presidency, whenever he felt like it.
But Tubman’s Cousin Fulton was behaving as though he could get Borbor Shad to reach back from beyond and continue what had worked for him in the past: something that—at least, for now—was working itself into action; something spelled: “d-e-e-d-s!” But Fulton had gotten the words of the motto mixed up, just as many of other True Whig, “Jolly Boys and Jolly Girls, of Tubman’s, often did! Imagine, then, trying to confuse people even further, by telling them all over again: “hush you mouth”!
This piece as our readers may have noticed is intended to pay homage to President William V.S. Tubman. However, it would be a serious disservice to his memory to only recall the good things that he did. That would not be the Porte tradition that we were brought up in.
Following the death of President William R. Tolbert—at the hands of the military junta that seized power and set up a dictatorship in 1980, Liberians would see their country and people go from one unfortunate situation to the other. Most that followed—bringing themselves to power as presidents—stepped out and showed that they either could not or would not do the right thing. And to a man, every damned one of them was nothing more than a Tubman imitator—a Tubman Wannabee, who had little to show for himselves or what he understood was best for their country and people!
Accordingly, whatever they could not and would not do had not been done at all, since those doings had not been done right; certainly not in the sight of God nor to the benefit of their countrymen and women! And that is what becomes the key to the solution to all that Liberia has been put through and subjected to over the years—at the hands of pretenders—passing themselves off as leaders.
That, then, is what would constitute the test—that dates all the way back to God’s creation of mankind—leading to man’s fall, that would necessitate the sending of His Son, to restore mankind back to God based on that maxim of all maxims: “only one life, it will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.
Last week, a legislator challenged Liberia’s current president Oppong in a manner that few other ‘presidents’ would have tolerated. Weah had little choice than to operate within the framework of the kind of society that Liberia has become, thanks in part to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian Press, the Liberian people in general and the international community. That’s how far Liberia has come, the short-coming of past ‘leaders’ notwithstanding. And here is why we saw the need to take Fulton Yancy to task almost half a century ago leaving nothing to chance.
MY REPLY TO FULTON YANCY
I soon shot off one of my first poems of the new, Tolbert era, in my “Response to Fulton’s ‘Let Tubman Rest in Peace:’ After reading my poem following its appearance in the papers, the-then assistant minister for information, Johnny McClain, called me to his office for a ‘chat’; “you will never ever be able to top this,” he told me, excited as he was, over my poem.
Needless to say, Johnny McClain, nephew by marriage to the incoming president, William R. Tolbert who had succeeded Tubman in 1971, was wrong: In a few years, Education for the Masses would be on the Liberian market and introduced into English classes at the University of Liberia. And waiting to introduce me to poetry out of my own book containing poems I had been writing over the years, was my English instructor, Dr. Winsgrove Dwamina, who was married to one of President Tubman’s nieces. The book: Education for the Masses had been written and published by me, funded by Jesus and Rocheforte Weeks, of The Revelation Magazine and BestWeek Magazine that did not make it to Press, just before I enrolled as a student, at UL. Here was my:
“Response to: Fulton Yancy’s, ‘Let Tubman Rest in Peace:’ ”
And was Liberia shaken,
And was Liberia dead,
Or have our voices quickened, (come to life)
Since Tubman bowed his head?
Liberia was shaken —
Uncertainty was bred
As our head of state was taken
To join the ‘ever-dead’.
But dead, well, yes: Illusions:
“Deception meets its doom;”
And under new revision
The “Truth” now finds its home.
Our progress too, might quicken:
It should double in the run;
Yes! We, finally, are awakened
It seems, we have just begun!
Could we have been mistaken?
Could we have been misled?
Why dash away a garland
That might grace a “hero’s” head?
The stage was long in setting:
The forerunner now retires;
‘Mid ovation ear-splitting,
A solid promise now aspires.
So it’s, “down!” to base stagnation;
Yea, it’s “up!” to lofty heights:
Give vent to indignation,
It’s your basic ‘human right’!
THE 1980 COUP
On the morning of 1980, a neighbor from across the street on Snapper- Hill Broad Street where I lived, called me from my window while I still slept, after being out shooting pool the night before, at RVR’s pool joint at the intersection of Benson and Warren Streets. Don’t you know that the world has turned upside down, the Army has taken over and nothing remains as you remember it last night I fell on my knees and asked God’s blessings for the country and for myself, as I tried to do each morning. After prayers, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I got out my unfinished poem and resumed writing: The words poured out in an unbroken flow exactly as they was designed to be written from and by someone other than I:
But then, one day, the hunter
Got ready for the hunt
Though young, his back from labor bent,
He straightened with a grunt.
No need to stalk the elephant
Who, in great napped:
One swift move by the hunter
And the snoring beast was trapped.
The people cheered the hunter
As he strutted up and down.
With the elephant before him,
They marched to end of town.
The people jeered the elephant,
They challenged it to rage
No more to feast, the silent beast
Was pushed into a cage.
In days a state of soberness
The elephant did reach;
Unmoved, the brazen hunter
Took a further step to teach
That blind is retribution,
Comes round from each to each:
The hunter strapped the elephant
And shot it on the beach.
Before the fatal bullet
Took his wretched life away,
The elephant did defecate
Upon himself that day:
The filth rolled down hairy legs,
The sweat poured down his back.
The salty tears from his eyes
Made puddles in his tracks.
All day the queasy ocean,
A watchful distance kept;
The filth left on its beach that day
It just would not accept.
By night, the uneasy ocean
Began to howl and roar;
Rearing into a tidal wave,
It swept upon the shore.
The filth, the guilt, the slime, the grime,
The ocean swept them back;
The wind picked up the foul fumes,
To town, it blew them back.
So, they are here again, the evils
That once before, did taunt us:
Ignorance and greed, impunity,
They are here again to haunt us!
ELLEN MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
That brings us to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who, in the 1900s, would become president as well. Ellen took her bow and made her exit when the time came to leave. Unlike Ellen, though, Tubman found himself in that category of people, who took their hold on power too seriously and would come to discover—too late—that hanging on endlessly was not in their best interests.
Don’t get us wrong; Ellen, in her own way, was a power fanatic herself! But, in her own interest, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—after seeing it happen again and again—had grasped, (taken hold of) the understanding that it is one thing to enjoy power but, quite another, to keep hanging on to it, long after one failed to do those grand things he or she had promised God, herself and her people, squandering the opportunity, the time—and even the focus, at that point—and failing to get much done!
So, Ellen decided to make the big difference! Fortunately for her, a number of things were happening over that period—a bit, of her own making, it appeared to some—and it became clear that it was time she ‘hit the road’—and, perhaps, not a minute too soon. She took a bow and left the stage—a difference that people are still celebrating around the world.
Ellen’s Mo Ibrahim Prize of five million dollars already had been counted; all she had to do was pick it up—for doing something some people would rather have killed for. Some end up getting themselves killed—or sent to prison for playing the fool and waiting for things to catch up with them. Invariably, (habitually) many remained vain enough to believe they might separate themselves from what they had set out to do, expecting to walk away, scot free!