Browsing "Slavery Worldwide"

African Slavery in America

Nearly always missing in a discussion of slavery in North America is the question of how Africans arrived and who conveyed them – and it was not slave ships flying the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The responsibility for African slavery begins with the African tribes themselves who enslaved each other, then the Portuguese, Spanish, French and British who needed labor for their New World colonies, and the New England slavers who ruled the transatlantic slave trade in the mid-1700s. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of slave-ship construction, with the latter departing for Africa’s west coast laden with rum and Yankee notions, trading these for already-enslaved men, women and children, transporting them to the West Indies to be traded for molasses, and then returning to New England to distill more rum from the molasses. Add to this New England’s textile mills of the early 1800s whose fortunes depended upon slave-produced cotton.

African Slavery in America

“There are three important points to keep in mind in the study of the African-American population of the 1850s. First, we should avoid presentism. Attitudes toward working people of all races were different at that time than those we find acceptable today.

The Dutch did keelhauling of sailors as late as 1853 and the British did no ban the flogging of soldiers until 1860. The working classes in industrialized areas such as Manchester, England, worked under conditions that left many crippled and maimed from injuries of breathing dust from textile mills and mines. This left most unfit for work at 40 years of age and almost none at 50. Children as young as 7 or 8 worked up to 12 hours [a day], some “seized naked in bed by the overlookers, and driven with blows and kicks to the factory.”

Second, regardless of good treatment, being a slave has many costs which few of us would be willing to pay. Third, trying to have a realistic understanding of slavery is not an apology. It is a mistake to oversimplify slavery to chains, whips, and division of families; it is likewise a mistake to say that they were better off as slaves. The objective should be to understand as best we can.

A difficulty is finding objective writings at a time when Northern writers emphasized the horrors of slavery in a continuing regional attack, Southern writers emphasized slavery’s benefit to the African, and the bonded people themselves left few written records. The slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s offer the best testimony we have by the slaves themselves, although, of course, memories of 70 years ago have problems of certainty.

Many Americans, including Abolitionists, advocated that Africans be sent to Africa or some place in the New World where they would be removed from American society. Toward this goal, the American Colonization Society, to which many prominent Northern and Southern Americans belonged to, established the western African nation of Liberia.

The attitude of most Americans of the time was summed up by Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

It would not be until January of 1863 that the North would allow black men to serve in the Union army, and then in segregated units at lower pay and with white officers. U.S. “Colored Troops” were often used as labor or in “forlorn hopes,” such as fighting at the Crater and Battery Wagner.”

(Characteristics of the African-American People During the 1850s: American History for Home Schools, 1607-1885, with a Focus on the Civil War, Leslie R. Tucker, Society of Independent Southern Historians, 2018, excerpts Chapter 10)

Dec 29, 2018 - Antiquity, Democracy, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Greek Democracy

Greek Democracy

The idea of democracy under the ancient Greeks was far different than what is practiced today under the name of democracy. The Greek aristocracy despised democracy and planned its overthrow; the American Founders understood the problems inherent in democracy and avoided it. The Greeks held slaves: those caught in raids upon Mediterranean barbarians, prisoners of war who could not ransom themselves, unwanted children, and debtors.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Greek Democracy

“If the right of every citizen, whatever his rank or means, to participate in political decisions and in the direction of the state, and the obligation of every citizen to serve the state with money and in person according to his wealth and ability constitute a democracy, then Athens was democratic.

The charge is often made, however, that the Athenian citizen body constituted a small, privileged group ruling over a large number of foreigners and slaves resident in Athens who could not acquire citizenship, and that Athens was therefore not a true democracy.

From the modern point of view the contention is valid, but it is one which the ancient Greek would hardly have understood. Citizenship was a natural right acquired by inheritance and protected by ancestral divinities. Residence in a city, therefore, no more made one a citizen than the renting of a room today makes one a member of the family of the house.

The foreigners were citizens of their own communities who were residing in Athens by their own choice, and under no constraint to remain there. Since they could not worship the ancestral gods of the Athenians, they could not hope to participate in the activities which were under the protection of the gods unless the state, in return for services rendered, granted them those rights by an act equivalent to adoption.

Slavery was a recognized institution. In the Greek view, slaves were inferior subjects, and any thought of allowing them participation in politics was absurd. Athens, governed by its body of citizens, the demos, as the Athenians called it, was, by the standards of the ancient Greeks, democracy.”

(The Ancient World, Volume I, Wallace Everett Caldwell, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1937, excerpts pp. 221-227)

The Aftermath of New England’s Thanksgiving

The Pequot tribe inhabited the coastline of southeastern Connecticut before the arrival of the Dutch in 1614, and shortly afterward, the English. The Pequots did not welcome strangers who settled on their land, took their wild game, and infected the tribe with smallpox — warring between the tribe and the strangers soon commenced. Early on the morning of June 5, 1637, the English “murmured their prayers,” descended upon a sleeping village, set fire to the wigwams and killed some 400 Pequots. “The brutality of burning people alive did not faze the English” and one commander wrote “Sometimes the scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.” After finally extinguishing the Pequots in 1638, the English turned upon their Indian allies to continue their efforts to make New England safe for European settlement, selling many into slavery in the West Indies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Aftermath of New England’s Thanksgiving

“The English were now determined to eradicate the remnants of the Pequots . . . The first band . . . were captured without resistance, and 40 of them were murdered by the English in cold blood. Some 80 of the women were handed over to the Narragansetts to become part of their tribe. The remainder were bound up and sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony to be sold as slaves, destined for the cane fields of the Caribbean.

Ultimately, according to [Commander John] Mason, some 700 additional Pequots were killed or captured in various groups. Those that had escaped became marked men. Hardly a week passed . . . that [English ally] Narragansetts or Mohegans didn’t appear with yet another grisly trophy. It brought joy to colonial leaders, who proclaimed gratefulness “that on this day we have sent 600 heathen to heaven.”

On October 1, 1638, in a document styled the “Treaty of Hartford,” the colonial government of Connecticut, along with its Indian allies, passed final judgement on the Pequots. Under the terms of the treaty, the remaining living Pequots were divided among the Narragansetts and Mohegans . . . [and] the Pequots could never again live in their homeland and could never again use the name Pequot.

The French traveler and historian Alexis de Toqueville recorded their extermination for the world after travelling New England in 1833. “All the Indian tribes who once inhabited the territory of New England – the Narragansetts, the Mohicans, the Pequots – now live only in men’s memories,” he wrote in Democracy in America after returning home.

Much of the 500 square miles of land that had once been under the domain of the Pequots was awarded to the winning commanders in the Pequot War. John Mason and Lion Gardiner were given huge plantations in what is now southeastern Connecticut. Thousands of settlers from the Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies streamed into what today is the metropolitan area of Hartford.

Before the war, the body of water that flowed to Norwich was known as the Pequot River. The nostalgic English, after the war, renamed the waterway the Thames River.”

(The Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World’s Most Profitable Casino, Kim Isaac Eisler, Simon & Schuster, 2001, excerpts 33-39)

 

Portuguese Trade with Africa

It is said that a Portuguese merchant was the first to purchase slaves in 1441 from an African chieftain, who were then taken to Portugal. This country had emerged as the first European country and viable political unit which could raise sufficient revenues through taxation to sustain overseas expeditions for future trade relations. And, like their European counterparts, African coastal slave catchers viewed their captives as marketable objects.

The African slave trade monopoly developed by the Portuguese spread to other European powers, and eventually New England, which created its own “rum triangle” of the transatlantic trade in slaves. Thus, the agrarian Southern colonies of British America became populated with African slaves to work the British plantation labor system. It is then clear who developed, profited from and perpetuated the existence of African slavery, and where condemnation should be accurately directed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Portuguese Trade with Africa

“The transatlantic trade affected the coastal area of West Africa that became Liberia in 1822. Before the arrival of Europeans in the fifteenth century, coastal pre-Liberia had been affected by internal and external social dynamics. The Mande, Mel and Kwa were the first linguistic groups to reside in the region . . . [and] Dei, Bassa, Kran, Kru and Glebo came to pre-Liberia in about 988 AD.

Nearly all these ethnic groups practiced some form of slavery prior to the arrival of the Europeans. [The European] discovery of the New World brought significant demands for . . . a large number of Africans to meet the demand for labor. [North and South American] Indians were enslaved, but frequently escaped. As many as 30 million Indians were killed by diseases such as smallpox and chicken pox . . .

Attempts were made to enslave poor Europeans. Some poor Irish, Scots and English were reduced to indentured servitude to meet the increasing demands for labor in the New World.

The first group of African slaves sent to the West Indies in 1510, had been bought in Portugal. Owing to the increasing significance of the slave trade, King John III activated the monopoly that had been established over the coastal pre-Liberian trade, even though the Portuguese monopoly was ignored by other European powers as the transatlantic slave trade, started by Portugal, was taken over by Spain and then the Netherlands.

Nearly all the major European powers came to be involved with the trade from the 1400s to the 1800s. It has been estimated that as many as 9.5 million Africans were transported to the Americas between 1510 and 1870.

The prosperity of the Vai, Kissi, Kry, Bassa and Glebo merchants was directly tied to their participation in the Atlantic trade . . . [and] African coastal merchants perceived slavery as a commercial action. The African slavers sent “gampisas”, professional slave captors, into the interior to hunt for slaves for their western allies.”

(Transatlantic Trade and the Coastal Area of Pre-Liberia, Amos J. Beyan, The Historian, Phi Alpha Theta, Volume 57, No. 4, Summer 1995, excerpts pp. 757-758; 763-768)

Jul 14, 2018 - Antebellum Economics, Economics, New England History, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Race and the North, Sharp Yankees, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Illicit Trade in Slaves and Opium

Illicit Trade in Slaves and Opium

The Fells Point shipyard of Baltimore builder William and George Gardner built many fast merchantmen during the 1830s, as well as for the slave and opium trade. One Fell’s Point free black carpenters was Fred Bailey (later Fred Douglass) who helped build the slavers Delorez, Teayer, Eagle at Price’s Shipyard, plus the Laura at Butler & Lamdin yard in the same city. In 1844, Bostonians George and John Dixwell of Augustine Heard & Co. ordered fast clippers built by the Gardner’s to carry Bombay opium to China, where it was outlawed. One of their most notorious opium clippers built for the Dixwell’s was the “Frolic,” despite an 1844 treaty forbidding American ships carrying in into China.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Illicit Trade in Slaves and Opium

“Probably the most notorious slave ship ever built in the United States, the Venus, was widely discussed in the newspapers at the time. On July 4, 1838, the Venus reached completion at Fells Point . . . the Venus was neither a warship nor a merchantman, but a slave ship in disguise. Indeed, like the merchant traders of New England, Baltimore shipbuilders had a long tradition of employing ruses to conduct their craft in defiance of the law.

The Gardner’s were careful; to protect themselves by selling the slave ships they built to foreign buyers. These transactions through intermediaries, though contrived and transparent, sufficed to enable the Gardners and other Baltimore builders to construct the world’s most profitable slavers while remaining officially and legally ignorant.

As soon as the Venus was ready to be launched, [owner] Lambert Giddings [transferred] the vessel to Jose Mazorra, a notorious [Cuban] slave trader. As the Venus left Havana “with equipment for the slave trade,” we may assume that during her nineteen-day layover in Cuba carpenters were busy fitting her out with platforms in her hold and tons of iron shackles and chains.

On November 5, the Venus, still under the American flag, arrived at Lagos on the West African coast . . . and departed Lagos with a cargo of about 1,150 slaves. The American flag and papers had provided protection for the vessel until the slaves were driven aboard, whereupon the vessel was given over to an agent of Jose Mazzora who carried . . . fraudulent papers . . . disguised as a wholly different vessel.

Continued “foreign” orders for slavers during 1838 and 1839 helped the Gardners’ business survive the financial panic of 1837. [The slaver Venus] would bring international recognition to the Gardners – and ultimately an order for two opium clippers from John and George Dixwell of Augustine Heard & Co. [of Canton, China and Ipswich, Massachusetts].”

(The Voyage of the Frolic: New England Merchants and the Opium Trade, Thomas N. Layton, Stanford University Press, 1997, excerpts pp. 41-43)

 

Sep 21, 2017 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Challenging Africa’s Established Order

Challenging Africa’s Established Order

The Arab empire’s extent in ancient times was outlined by Berber wanderer Ibn Batuta who spent forty years touring countries from western China to modern-day Mali without once leaving Arab hegemony. It is recorded that in the fourteenth century, Timbuktu’s greatest ruler, Mansa Musa, arrived in Cairo with a magnificent caravan of soldiers, courtiers, wives, concubines and 12,000 slaves. A baggage train of 300 camels carried three hundred pounds of gold. By the time of the first European visits to Africa, the slave trade of native tribes and Arab had been long-established.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Challenging Africa’s Established Order

“Beyond its attraction as a center of great wealth, no city was more worthy of discovery for geographical and scientific reasons. Arabic texts documented that merchants from Tripoli to Morocco had gathered at Timbuktu since the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries, when it was incorporated into the great Malian Empire, to buy gold and slaves in exchange for prized European manufactured goods, cloth, horses, and the mined salt of the desert.

[Evidence in Moroccan archives indicate] that trade had been conducted across the [Sahara] region since early times . . . [and] it seems likely that gold, animal skins, ivory, gemstones, perfumes and black slaves from the Sudan states were exchanged for the manufactures and trinkets of the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine worlds.

Having taken their empire, the Arabs sealed it off. Foreigners who dared set foot in any part of it were confronted with a harrowing choice: either take a vow of abiding allegiance to Islam, forsaking all others loyalties, or face decapitation.

[In the Arab empire . . .] Gold and slaves were paramount. The importance of the slave trade is illustrated by estimates suggesting that from the seventh to the end of the nineteenth centuries, between 9 and 13 million slaves were transported north across the Sahara. This is comparable to the numbers shipped seaward during the four centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, though the Saharan traffic has received less public discussion.

Timbuktu grew to become an opulent city boasting real infrastructure – markets, mosques, and important Islamic libraries and schools. The wealth to fund this cultural and intellectual development was generated from the gold mines of West Africa, worked by black slaves for their black and Arab masters, and the merchants who carried their goods on camels, oxen and asses, and men’s heads, and in the canoes of tropical Africa’s rivers and lakes.

Though Africa was a cipher to white men, caravan routes and rivers were familiar to those black Africans along the western coastline who traded in their own kingdoms, and to the Arabs who had ventured deep into the interior centuries before Europeans arrived. These men were willing risk their lives . . . and thought nothing of inflicting untold suffering to secure the three commodities Africa offered in abundance: slaves, ivory, and gold.

To these Africans and Arabs, European travelers were “the devil’s children” and “enemies of the Prophet,” meddlesome interlopers who, with their idle talk of abolishing the slave trade and supplanting Arab caravans with British shipping, challenged the established order.”

(The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold; Frank T. Kryza, HarperCollins, 2006, excerpts, pp. xii-xxi)

Apr 30, 2017 - Foreign Viewpoints, Slavery Comes to America, Slavery Worldwide, Uncategorized    Comments Off on An Early Canadian Slave Transaction

An Early Canadian Slave Transaction

The erroneous belief in today’s popular culture that the American South was the only region in North America tainted by African slavery is contradicted by Carter Woodson’s writings. He states “[In] my article on “The Slave in Canada,” printed in The Journal of Negro History for July, 1920, (Vol. V, No. 3), several instances of Negro slavery in Canada were given. The latest is mentioned in Le Bulletin des Recherches Historiques for October, 1927, (Vol. XXXIII, No. 10), at p. 584. I translate it from the French the article referred to.”  Additionally, while Michigan was still a territory, complaints of Canadian slaves escaping across the border into Michigan were common.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An Early Canadian Slave Transaction

“Honorable William Renwick Riddell, Justice of Appeal, Ontario.

In July, 1748, Jean-Pierre Roma, Commandant for the (French) King at the island of St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence), on his passage to Quebec, made a singular gift to his friend, Fleury de la Gorgendiere, (the younger). He gave him a mulatto girl, five months old and named Marie.

The gift made to Mr. Fleury de la Gorgendiere is explained by the fact that the mother of the child, the slave of Roma, died in giving it birth. Roma not being able to charge himself with raising the orphan, preferred to give it to M. Fleury de la Gorgendiere.

The deed of gift was drawn up by the Notary, Jean-Claude Panet, July 15, 1748; and in it is the stipulation that in case of the death of Fleury and his wife, the mulatto will return Mdll. Roma (her grandmother). If she cannot take her it is stipulated that she will receive her freedom.

Such sales of the creatures of God may seem curious – they were, however, according to the customs of the time and were made almost in every country.”

(Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson, editor, Vol. XIII, No. 2, April, 1928, page 207)

Oct 18, 2016 - Black Slaveowners, Historical Amnesia/Cleansing, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Slavery in Korea

Slavery in Korea

The Puyo group of tribes is first known to have lived along the banks of Sungari River in northern Manchuria, and was a “considerable tribal power” by the first century AD, and somewhat equal in power to the Koguryo, or Korean, tribes south of it. The Puyo held commonly slaves, who were either prisoners of war or criminals. The Yi Dynasty of 14th & 19th centuries, continued the practice of holding slaves – paralleling the Arab slave trade of the Bantu’s in southeast Africa which predated the transatlantic slave trade by 700 years.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Slavery in Korea

“At the bottom of [Korea’s Yi Dynasty] social ladder were the ch’on-min. The majority of them were slaves serving either the government or private individuals, and they were regarded as hardly human and treated accordingly, though government slaves had a somewhat easier time of it than private ones.

The government slaves worked mostly in the workshops which supplied court and bureaucracy with various manufactured goods and performed various menial tasks for the officials. Private slaves served as household servants and also tilled the soil, their labor being much less expensive than that of sangmin farmers.

While slave status was hereditary, it was sometimes possible for a man to be a slave of a given person while his family was not. It was sometimes even possible for a slave to own slaves. Marriage outside the ch’on-min class, however, was impossible, and the children of slave women were classified as slaves no matter what their father’s status might have been.

In addition to slavery, certain other occupations were regarded as so demeaning as to merit ch’on-min status. These included strolling actors (there were no actresses), kisaengs [prostitutes], and butchers. Butchering was the most despised of all occupations, so much so that butchers and their families were often compelled to live in segregated villages.

The numbers of slaves held by the government had been greatly increased at the outset of the Yi Dynasty by the expropriation of many thousands of slaves held by Buddhist temples and monasteries.

[With the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 and after], the government pressed many slaves into military service . . . and this often entailed an automatic rise in status. And when at last the country was at peace, many of the government offices found that they were unable to support as many slaves as formerly.

Often the government had no option but to emancipate large numbers of slaves because it was unable to feed and house them . . . and large numbers of slaves became artisans or farmers. Eventually it became government policy to give official yangmin [farmer] status to all slaves who had served the government for two generations in positions formerly reserved for yangmin.”

(The History of Korea, Han Woo-Keun, Grafton Mintz, editor, Eul-Yoo Publishing Company, 1970, excerpts, pp. 252-253; 313-315)

 

 

British Philanthropic Hypocrisy

Replying to Hinton Helper’s “Impending Crisis,” Elias Peissner chastised the British for the hypocrisy of emancipating African slaves while still oppressing its Hindu subjects in India. John C. Calhoun in 1844 saw British emancipation as combining philanthropy, profit and power, and a belief that free labor would reduce overhead and increase profit. In British Jamaica, freedmen bankrupted plantations by not being industrious, and England then promoted wholesale emancipation to cripple or destroy her more successful trade rivals, the French and Americans.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

British Philanthropic Hypocrisy

“We are not yet through with the Testimony of England, who is always loudest in condemning our Slavery. We will give her a fair hearing. How closely she watches those poor Hindoos! How effectually she keeps them down, whenever they express any dissatisfaction with the happiness she forces upon them!

She has instituted among those “half-naked barbarians” an awful solidarite’, by which the province is responsible for the labor of all its men and women. But still, England is philanthropic! She has carried rails and Bibles, free-schools and steamboats, telegraphs and libraries to India, all for the benefit of those half-naked barbarians!

And should telegraphs and Bibles not have the requisite effect of happyfying, opium will be administered to them, and to “all the world, and to the rest of mankind.” She will no longer permit those savage Hindoos to roast as witches wrinkled old women, for she knows too well from her own experience, the unfairness of such proceedings; nor does she, in these days, allow anywhere the Hand of Justice to cut the ears of those who speak against State or Church. Now, this is decided progress!

England is the civilizer and Christianizer of the world! To be sure, there is still robbing and flogging, murdering and starving enough in the “dominions of the Gracious Queen, where the sun never setteth;” but England, nevertheless, dislikes Slavery in general, and Negro Slavery in the United States in particular, and her lords and ladies are ever ready to eat and drink with the poor commoners of the West, eager of philanthropic royalty!

But England emancipated her slaves in the West India Islands! She expended 20,000,000 [pounds], we suppose, from sheer philanthropy, and may we ask: Whom did her philanthropic measure benefit? Jamaica, that brilliant island, saw her land and people degenerate, says H.C. Carey; the planter sold cheaply and left, the slave did not work.

Such must be the effect of all revolutionary or sudden abolition; and, though the emancipated lands may gradually recover from the ill-advised blow, they can only do so with much loss of property and at the cost of much human misery.”

(The American Question, in its National Aspect, Elias Peissner, Negro Universities Press, 1970, pp. 64-65, originally published in 1861)

Mr. Tubman of Liberia

The country of Liberia was founded by the American Colonization Society, mostly Southerners and ably led by President James Monroe of Virginia. The intent was to settle freed slaves in their homeland and to plant responsible, republican government on that continent.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Mr. Tubman of Liberia

“The president of Liberia is a plausible and enterprising man in his middle fifties named William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman, sometimes called by the nickname “Shad.” The Honorable Mr. Tubman has been Chief Executive of Liberia since 1944, and will probably remain president for a considerable time to come. He is a character of the utmost originality and interest, who gives forth a certain waggish note.

Liberia is sui generis — unique. I could use any of several adjectives about it — odd, wacky, phenomenal, or even weird. It is, as is well known, one of the five independent countries in Africa, and for a great many years (until Egypt became a republic in 1953) it was the only republic on the continent. Haiti in the West Indies aside, it is the only Negro republic in the world.

Monrovia, the capital, was named for President Monroe, and is practically the only city I have seen without either taxis or buses. The people are too poor, too mercilessly exploited. A village in Uganda or in the wastes of northern Nigeria will have bicycles in profusion, but not the capital of Liberia. There was no successful telephone service in Monrovia until last year [1954], and the system does not extend beyond the city.

Liberia is roughly the size of Ohio or Tennessee, but the entire country has only ten miles of paved road, five of which are in the capital. Liberia never had a road until 1916 when an enterprising American diplomat built one in Monrovia itself so that he could use an automobile that had arrived there by mistake, the first ever to be seen in the country.

Consider health and education. Only two native Liberians have ever become doctors. There are also two naturalized Haitian MD’s, but in the whole country there are probably not more than a half-dozen reputable physicians outside of Firestone and the [Christian] missions. Infant mortality runs as high as 75% in some areas . . . [and] no public health service at all existed until 1931—and Liberia had been an independent republic since 1847!

More than 90 percent of the population is illiterate . . . in 1946 the total sum allotted to education in the national budget was only around $50,000 (80% of education was taken care of by missionaries); it is substantially higher now, roughly $1.5 million out of a budget of $10,088,810.

Liberia College, the chief institution of “higher” learning in the country where several of its leading contemporary citizens were educated, had for years no library, laboratories or scientific equipment; a former head of this school calmly appropriated all its funds on one occasion, and with his loot sent his daughters to be educated in Italy.

Thievery — the cities swarm with thieves — is most conspicuous during the rains. First, rice is short then and people are hungry. Second, the noise of the rain makes it easy for thieves to get around. Stealing is, however, by no means confined to professional criminals or to the poor, who are so miserable that petty theft may easily be forgiven — it is almost a national sport. Newspapers talk openly of “wholesale stealing” in government departments . . . [and] recently the Italian delegation lost, of all things, its safe.

In the field of political corruption Liberia has some wonderful distinctions. One president of the republic (not Mr. Tubman) got 243,000 votes in a certain election, though only 15,000 persons were privileged to vote.

Most educated Africans in neighboring countries pay lip service to Liberia because it is an independent republic created by freed Negro slaves, but they despise it inwardly because it constitutes a betrayal of what modern Africans stand for. Even Ethiopia has higher standards. Liberia might almost be called a kind of perverse advertisement for imperialism since although the country is free, the people are so badly off compared to those in most French and British colonies.

One brief word on Liberian history. Liberia was created by the American Colonization Society, a private organization (its first president was a nephew of George Washington) formed in 1816 to transport freed American slaves to Africa, where they might settle and start a new life on their own.

The motive was only humanitarian in part. A good many American slaveowners wanted to get freed slaves out of the country; it was dangerous to have them around. Also in 1819, the American navy was empowered to seize slave ships on the high seas, free any slaves found and return them to Africa, as part of an attempt to suppress what remained of the organized slave trade.

Out of Slavery — Slavery

One of the most horrifying official documents I have ever read has to do with Liberia, the report made in 1931 by an international commission inquiring into the slave traffic.

For years rumors had been heard, which the Monrovia government persistently denied, that Liberia tolerated organized slavery. At last in 1929 pressure, largely from the United States forced an investigation. Henry Stimson, secretary of state at the time, wrote to the Liberian authorities: “It would be tragically ironic if Liberia, whose existence was dedicated to the principle of liberty should succumb to practices so closely akin to those its founders sought forever to escape.”

Facts uncovered by the commission were — and are — appalling. It found that “slavery as defined by the 1926 anti-slavery convention” existed in the country, that contract laborers “were recruited under conditions of criminal compulsion scarcely distinguishable from slave-raiding and slave trading,” and that high officials of the Liberian government not only connived at this traffic but made money out of it.

Mr. Tubman, current president of Liberia, was a Senator during this period and is mentioned twice in the commission report, each time in connection with the receipt of fees from native chiefs.”

(Inside Africa, John Gunther, Harper & Collins, 1955, excerpts, pp. 843-849; 860-861)

 

 

 

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