Minister Bowier at the official opening of the Museum

By Mrs. Burdie Urey-Weeks

Former Director, Liberia National Museum

I extend my sympathy to his wife, Ruth and family and friends for this great loss. We have all lost another great historian and educator.

The late Hon. J. Emmanuel Bowier, then Editor of the New Liberia Newspaper in 1982, came to the rescue of the Liberia National Museum, when the Lottery Enterprise took over the historical building located at the corner of Broad and Buchanan Streets in Monrovia; which was once the National Legislature from 1859- 1862. In the 1902 a third floor was added to that building, to serve as the Supreme Court; and prior to that time, in the early days, it was also the Treasury and Bank.

In 1982 that historical building was given by government to house the Liberia National Museum. Prior to that time, it hosted a public high school and, when that high school was relocated, it was occupied by squatters. It took the intervention of the Ministry of Justice to clear them out, as requested by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism. Subsequently, the staff of the Liberia National Museum and Ministry of Information, with support from the Ministry of Public Works and General Services Agency (GSA), cleared and cleaned in and around the building and locked it up, and provided to government an estimated of what it would cost for its total renovation as a national museum.

While awaiting the government’s budget allocation for the renovation of the building, and after all the hard work of cleaning in and clearing around it; the Lottery Enterprise moved into the building.  When I, as Director of the Museum, was told about this, I went to see the building for myself. What I found was that, on the ground floor, the windows and floor had been renovated and several ticket-selling booths had been constructed. People were going in and out buying and selling Lotto tickets, and the owner and manager was moving around in his big gown; and he claimed the right to be there, because government had given the building to the Lottery Enterprise. 

The thoughts in my mind were that he, the Lottery Enterprise, had the money to immediately renovate; while the National Museum was waiting for its budget allocation government. Feeling the disadvantage and injustice surrounding the situation, I came down the front stairs of the building, on Broad Street, crying for the disadvantage and injustice. Then, Mr. Bowier, who was at that time the Editor of the New Liberia Newspaper, saw me and asked what was wrong? why was I crying?  I told him the story, and the work we had done. That the National Museum was the first to asked for and be give the building, because of its historical significance; but unfortunately, the Lottery Enterprise had asked for and been given the same building.

After listening to the story, Mr. Bowier walked away; and the next day we saw the front-page headline of the New Liberia Newspaper asking: “DO WE WANT THIS HISTORIC BUILDING ON THE CORNER OF BROAD AND BUCHANNAN STREET TO BE USED AS A NATIONAL MUSEUM OR A GAMBLING HOUSE”?  And the newspaper went on to tell the history of the building and the importance of the Museum.

Master Sargent Samuel K. Doe was then Head of State; and his office, having read the newspaper and its headline, realized that the said historical building had been previously given for the use of the National Museum. Therefore, the Head of State directed that the building be turned over, “effective immediately”, to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism for that purpose.

Little did we know that, after many years, the Hon. J. Emmanuel Bowier would be appointed as Minister for Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), under which the Liberia National Museum is a bureau.  After his appointment, Minister Bowier and the then Deputy Minister for Culture, the late Hon Bai T. Moore, give the National Museum significant attention and support. It was during Minister Bowier’s administration at MICAT that the National Museum was really coming to life.

Those who came to our aid were the Government of the United States of American, through then Ambassador William Swing, and the Director and staff of the United States Information Service (USIS); the Mayor of the City Corporation of Monrovia; the late Mr. Vanja Richards, art and crafts instructor at the University of Liberia, who brought works of art for exhibition from time to time; and there were also friends of the Museum in the business community. In 1987, the Government of Japan, through its Ambassador in Monrovia, donated a quarter million dollars’ worth of audio-visual equipment, a moving van for taking pictures, and a technician to trained the Museum staff how to use the equipment and set up our studio.

Mrs. Rose MendsCole Sherman and I visited hon, Bowier, not too long ago he was in good spirits, she told him about her program “EACH ONE TEACHED ONE “he was pleased to hear about the program and asked her to keep up the good works. We walked around his yard/ flower garden, showing us different plants 

To his wife Ruth family and friends, I will say “HE UNDERSTAND, HE WILL SAY WELL DONE”

If when you give the best of your service telling the world that the savior is coming; be not dismayed when men don’t believe you; he understands; the savior of sinner, hung on the cross; don’t grieve for me, for now I am free. I am following the path God has chosen for me.