Founded by US settlers in the 19th Century, Liberia began as the first and only African colony founded by African-Americans. After Haiti, Liberia is the second oldest Black republic in the world and has captivated the imagination of Pan-Africanists for generations. Freed American slaves and their descendants, called Afro-Liberians at the time, lived in a forty-mile wide strip along the coast; indigenous tribes lived further in the interior of the country. The relations between the indigenous African population and the Americo-Liberian elites were strained, to put it mildly. And while Liberia has much in common traditionally with America – like Thanksgiving, for example – it is also very different as well as having a complex relationship with its African neighbors.
The histories of the United States and Liberia intertwine in such a way that even their flags are inverse-analogously related. The Liberian flag contains alternating red and white horizontal stripes (above) and, in the upper left-hand corner, a dark blue square. Against the blue background square is a star representing Liberty. By 1847, the colony had declared itself independent and went by the name Liberia, or “Land of Freedom.”
But the twin struggles for liberty in Liberia and in the United States of America diverge there. America was essentially founded by wealthy lawyers (35 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were attorneys) tired of British taxation without representation. Liberia has always aspired to be a homeland and republic for the African diaspora. Free African Americans settled in the region two hundred years ago this year, sent by the controversial American Colonization Society. In 1816, the American Colonization Society — previously known as the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America — encouraged freed slaves to migrate back to the continent of Africa, but not entirely for benevolent reasons. It should be noted here that the American Colonization Society (ACS) was largely made up of Quakers and slaveholders (Thomas Jefferson was an early supporter) who believed that displaced members of the African diaspora would do best and be best in their own homeland, away from whites. The relationship between the United States and Liberia has always been rather interesting.