Tribute to President William V. S. Tubman (Part 2)

President William V. S. Tubman

By Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Vanisea

One of the least talked about historical milestones of Liberia was her centennial (100 years) celebration in 1947. That landmark event escaped historians. There is reason for that as we shall find out later.

The centenary events had a significant impact on President Tubman’s development initiatives. He became president in 1944, and within three years the country would turn 100 years. His regime will begin the next 100 years.

We showed in Part 1 that for the first 100 years Liberia was deemed a “backward” nation. In its editorial on Liberia’s 100th independence celebrations, TIME Magazine portrayed the country as “A nation bypassed by history” (Brenna W. Greer, “Selling Liberia” 2013). Liberia had no semblance of modernism relative to that time.

All that was against the backdrop that the country was initially viewed by black civil rights activists in America as symbol of Black progress. Unfortunately, after 100 years African Americans began to question, if not disapprove the notion that Liberia represented black progress. The view of the world toward Liberia had changed significantly, questioning the country as a progressive state.

Tubman took all of that personally. He had to act fast, strategically, and radically to combat the bad image of the country. He would start the next 100 years on a progressive note to pull Liberia from the shadows of backwardness into the spotlight of modern nationhood. His first test was the Centennial Celebrations.

The Centennial Celebrations

The president wanted a very impressive centennial celebration. He created the Centennial Committee in 1946 to plan and oversee the celebrations. They created a specialized sub-committee, the Centennial Commission, to serve as the international arm of the celebrations. Moss Hyles Kendrix, a remarkably successful African American businessman, popularly known as “crown prince of public relations” was chosen to head the commission.

Ariel view of the Executive Mansion, Temple of Justice and Capitol Building (Credit: 45 Spaces)

Kendrix’s commission formulated the idea of “Victory Exposition” or “Victory Expo.” Their plan was to present Liberia as a country inclined to modernism, to attract business interests to Liberia, and so on. The Victory Expo prepared the groundwork for strategic development. They designed a new capitol with buildings to house the Executive Branch, Legislature, Judiciary, and other departments (back then they were called departments, not ministries). The plan included pipe-borne water and paved roads in the city. They laid the platform for development in agriculture, education, healthcare, and the like (Brenna W. Greer, in “Selling Liberia”).

According to Howard University professor Rayford W. Logan, author of “Liberia in the Family of Nations” (1946), the theme of the Victory Expo was “West Africa in the World at Peace.” The events will be celebrated simultaneously in Liberia and the USA. The projects will be unveiled over a three-year period, 1947-1949.

Moss Hyles Kendrix and his team got to work to promote those ideas to the American public, African Americans leaders, political leaders, and businessmen everywhere.

A Great Failure

The planning was extensive, and the expectations were high. Some saw it as drastic and revolutionary. Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances the Victory Expo failed to get off the ground. What caused it?  First, the lack of transportation, telecommunication systems, and necessary infrastructure hindered the plan. Second and most importantly, the US denied Liberia the much-needed loan just one month before the event. President Tubman disbanded the commission. The centennial was celebrated, but not with the elaborate extravaganza they anticipated through the Victory Expo (Brenna W. Greer. “Selling Liberia,” published in Enterprise & Society, 2013).

A Determined President

The failure of the Victory Expo, as disappointing as it was, challenged the president even more to do whatever he could to develop the country. Most importantly, the Victory Expo gave him the much-needed blueprint for the kind of infrastructural development the nation needed at that time. Tubman lost the Victory Expo, but he would follow its design. Going forward, the president would flex diplomatic muscles in any way he could to give Liberia a modern city.

Israel Rescued Tubman

By 1950 President Tubman had established strong ties internationally. He mixed diplomacy with personal rapport and a deep sense of integrity. His personal Christian faith, coupled with leadership skills, and the ability to reach out, led him into close relationship with Israel. The Israeli historian Yekutiel Gershoni wrote that Tubman stood firmly with Israel, and that Liberia was the first African country to move its Embassy to Jerusalem after the 1967 Israeli—Arab war (Liberian Studies Journal, Volume XIV).

President William V. S. Tubman in conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir during her visit to Liberia in 1958. (Courtesy: William V. S. Tubman Photography Collection, British Library, EAP139/1/1,

Tubman’s relationship with Israel served as a major stepping stone in accomplishing his development goals for Liberia. Yekutiel Gershoni further wrote that out of the relationship with Israel, Tubman pulled large-scale construction projects through Israeli companies to build the Ducor Hotel, the new Executive Mansion, the Monrovia City Hall, the Temple of Justice, the Department of Public Works, just to name a few. Tubman also paved all the existing roads in Monrovia and built new ones and bridges. All of that was accomplished within 12 years (1955-1967). By 1960 Tubman had flipped the entire outlook of the capital city from a precarious backward condition into a modern metropolitan city.

For example: By 1960 he had built the nation’s first hydropower production plant. Louis Beleky, author of “The Development of Liberia” described the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Project like this, “In fact its I960 electricity generating capacity exceeded in size about 20 other African countries.” Tubman also built one of the largest ports in West Africa, the Free Port of Monrovia with loan from the USA. It cost between $18,000,000–$22,000,000. He built world-class school campuses like Tubman High and G. W. Gibson Schools, etc.

Tubman kept the city clean and healthy. I remember growing up in Buzzy Quarter, there were street sweepers from the Ministry of Public Works who kept the streets clean. Garbage disposal sites were built throughout the city. Garbage was collected at least twice weekly. Public toilets on Capitol Hill, Buzzy Quarters, Bassa Community, and other places were cleaned and sprayed weekly. Free pipe-borne water was provided in several communities.

Unbelievable Headlines

News headlines were changing fast on Liberia. One journal that previously described despair in Liberia had to admit that “Under President Tubman, Liberia has awakened and is marching forward.” The same journal pointed out in 1952 that “Recent events in Liberia are in sharp contrast with the pattern of life in that country during the preceding century (“Progress In Liberia” published in Negro History Bulletin, 1952). In the next segment of Tributes to President Tubman I will offer new perspectives, never before considered, on how he got the money to fund his development initiatives. Did the phrase “Open Door Policy” originate with Tubman? Did he intimidate the US? If so, in what way? All of that plus more, to come next.


  1. Samuel Vansea, you are very stupid and extremely inferior to believe that a tyrant, dictator, and despot, whose only concern for development was the pinch of environment where he lived and those streets connected to his residence WHILE THE REST OF THE NATIONAL REMAINED IN ITS 4TH CENTURY FORM, is according to your stupid and inferior mentality “pulling Liberia from the shadows of backwardness into the spotlight of modern nationhood“!.GROWTH WITHOUT DEVELOPMENT IS NOTHING TO EXTOLL, MR, FOOL!

  2. Please let’s speak to the issue without name calling. tubman 27 years as president was a failure; 95% EVIL and 5% good: human right violation, bad governance, systemic corruption, class system ( indigenous Vs settler); the settler as the oppressor, one sided justice system…it was 100% enforced against the indigenous, development localize / marginalize.
    Tubman birthday should not be a national holiday; the celebration is waste of resources.
    I hope that we all can learn from the past and strive to build Just and greater Republic (Liberia)

  3. Why should the Liberian people honor The Late William V.S Tubman he is the one that cause Liberia to be undeveloped during his terms as Head of state of the poorest nation on earth he and his family were pocking all the money from the revenue -that were generated from company such as Firestone Plantations Harbel, Liberia etc, materials were very that time, See Monrovia misshape resident and street the government continued to leased private home as their offices.

  4. Can you believe it? Emperor Haile Selassie modernized his country, Ethiopia. He put lot of capital into education, from K to college, including the training of young Ethiopians into various professions, and many more. Unfortunately, what was his fate? The old man, the Lion of Judah, was not spared the wrath of some of the young people he helped to educate. His dead body was eventually found in the basement of his palace! The word “gratitude” reveals the inner soul of a man/woman, and so is “ingratitude”.

    So much so with William V. S. Tubman, the eighteenth president of Liberia. Tubman was a contemporary of Emperor Haile Selassie, at least in the formation of the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union. Some of the ungrateful young people that question the leadership of Tubman today should try and do some research genuinely into the history of Liberia before, during, and after the administration of the 18th president. At least, the writer of this reflection is delving in the Tubman administration. But the whole story will not be told until the history of pre-Tubman Liberia and post-Tubman Liberia are fully delved into. Only then will true scholars develop some sense of appreciation.

  5. Reverend Vansea,
    I have dealt with you before. Once again, you have raised some important issues. However, with all due respect, I am doubtful about a few things you wrote about Tubman’s signature accomplishments.

    Example, the construction of the Freeport is a big question mark! The project may have been a Tubman initiative, but in reality, the US government constructed the Freeport. On the other hand, I don’t know how Tubman could involved himself with the construction of the Freeport. The truth of the matter is that Tubman became president in 1944. But the Freeport was there a few years before 1944.

    The Freeport was constructed for purposes of the second world war. The US government used the Freeport to unload its military equipment during the war.

    Yeah. On the whole, Tubman did a few good things. In some instances, Tubman blundered big time! I understand he was human. All human beings (probably except Trump) have some form of weaknesses in them. Irrespective of what he did or didn’t do, some people will praise him and some people will disparage him. It’s just an undeniable fact of life!

    The Tubman Birthday Issue….
    I am sorry to say this, but I will say it because it’s the truth. In the US, there’s a day set aside for all presidents. That specific day is a federal holiday. But my country sometimes does things backwards. I think we will be respectfully served if a day in Liberia is set aside for all presidents, dead or alive.

    Does it make sense for Samuel K. Doe and Johnson-Sirleaf to be awarded separate holidays? If that happens, Weah will demand a holiday.

    Take a listen:
    *. JJ Roberts Birthday,
    * Tubman Birthday,
    *. Doe Birthday,
    *. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Birthday and
    *. Weah Birthday.
    Gosh! With as many birthdays, schools will be unable to run well.

    Bottom Line….
    There should be a day set aside for all presidents.

    • “…Irrespective of what he did or didn’t do, some people will praise him and some people will disparage him. It’s just an undeniable fact of life!”-Hney

      Which Hney could this be, I wonder? It couldn’t obviously be Hney the Troll, or Weah apologist who police this site daily for any comment he deems distasteful and uncomplimentary of the Weah government. Such double-barreled character!

  6. Just My Thought.

    Five Iron Ore Companies, world largest rubber producing plant, an annual GDP of $1320.00 (more than most western countries). A population of 2.25 millions and an area of 43,000 square miles. One would question that with such an economic base, and small population, Liberia would had been one of the best in the world at the time.

    Mr. William V.S Tubman was an autocratic dictator who was very paranoid of individuals surrounding him and his leadership. Liberia would had been better than what it is now if “the Old man”, was progressive and developmentally oriented. The Old Man main goal was purging out any dissenting views in and around his surrounding. Mr. Tubman took no ‘prisoner’ in settling scores with any rival.

    The birth day of Mr. Tubman and other past leaders should be used for agricultures and science fairs. Every high school in Liberia should bring their best and brightest in science, math, engineering and agriculture. Class projects should be evaluated and the winner be given lucrative trophy to encourage others to participate. Our educational curriculum is too weak in math and science–I m a living witness. Therefore, we cannot compete with others in medicine and health cares. We may built all the best hospitals, if no trained person to take care of the sick, buildings cannot treat sick person. We can choose one day to honor or celebrate all the dead and living presidents’ birthdays

    We will be doing Mr. Tubman and all the other presidents a good favor if we invest in Science, math and engineering. That will curtails the number of our government officials dying in Ghana (a third world country), like ourselves. What a NATIONAL DISGRACE. Instead of us focusing on celebrating dead men birthdays, why can we focus of improving the lives of the living ones.

    Mamadu Bah (N/P) Meridian Health, Adelaide, Australia

  7. Peter Gboyo,
    A guy named Hilary Snyder once referred to me as an internet troll. Snyder’s accusation as well as yours is a damnable lie. I am not a troll, but rather, a God-created human being. I do not come here to provoke anyone. Also, I am not a stupid person who gets into nonsensical verbal fights with people because of a difference of opinion. Sir, please keep your harsh words to yourself. You can write and say anything you want about any specific topic that gets into your head. You have the right to do that! Just stay away from me.

    • No Mr./Ms. Hney, you will not be left alone, so long aqs you submit yourself on any public site as participant in the ongoing discussions. And nobody wants any so-called “verbal fight” with you or think-alike, nope. But when caught in any indiscrection or lies, rest assure you will be checked. Liar!

  8. Gboyo,
    I am beginning to think that you are that Hilary Snyder, the so-called Dempster Yallah. He composes well, but never bothers to indent. If you want to waste your time and challenge everything I write, it’s your prerogative. But I will not engage in any dialogue with you. Most commenters can tell that I am a gentleman!

  9. Haven read this presentation on the Liberian history regarding the leadership and developmental initiative, as well as the term of office for President William V. S. Tubman; it brought to my mind that, Liberians have experienced and survived under a form of leadership that changed the definition of DEMOCRACY. The leadership of President Tubman undermined democratic process in the Liberian civil society without tangible developments to be proud of as a nation. A leadership of one political party system that stayed in power for twenty-seven (27) years without presidential, senatorial and representatives elections. As such, President Tubman administration had the full undemocratic power and authority to choose counties and districts legislators without any participation of the indigenous citizens of Liberia. This form of government institutionalized the indigenous, as it was established to endanger their livings and increased the practices of discrimination against the native citizens of Liberia. As such, they were not eligible to vote in their home towns and villages. From 1847 to 2018, the country we called Liberia was only limited to Monrovia. President Tubman development of paved roads, pipe-borne water and the hydropower project were only for Monrovia; the paved roads were leading to government officials homes and their offices. The worst was, Nimba County where the government extracted billions of dollars from years over years did not have a paved road, pipe-borne water. Just imagine the short distance from Bong mining company area where the Tubman government extracted billions of dollars from as well, didn’t have a pave road, the government is insinuating of roads developments in Liberia. Are you telling me that Tubman high and G.W.Gibson schools are at the level of “The world class school”? You must be crazy or blind. The centennial developments was a failure, because the government focused on the promotion of its image. So, the government falsely came out with a developmental proposal without a specific PROJECTORY identified to navigate the activities of the centennial development project; as such, America realized that there was no reason to provide loan for a development project that has no leading idea how to go through. To speak on Liberia: “A nation bypassed by history”; I would say YES. The country LIBERIA, was not historically recognized as a country that was colonized by any country in the entire world; therefore, what historical knowledge or perspectives directed the Americo- Liberian to sought independent from the United States of America? What sort of historical analysis you have to provide to our next generations, when they ask about Liberia’s independent? Is the independent a truck played by the Americo-Liberians to register our country to their slave masters that they own a land in Africa, just as their slave masters did about America to Great Britain? To conclude, we have experienced and witnessed the worst side of what we thought was Democratic leadership, and thank God we survived under these forms of leaderships that changed the full definition of democracy totally in our country. Today, we are blessed by God with the opportunity in different century, but in the same old Liberia, that we are freely challenging and questioning the underlying ideas of democracy as it has never being before in our civil society.


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