When Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009 as the 44th US President, the historical significance of that moment was not lost on anyone. After three centuries and upwards of suffering racial subjugation since the first Africans were brought as slaves to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, an African-American had finally risen to the highest office in the land. But, long before Barack Obama, African-Americans had already risen to the highest office in “Another America,” as author James Ciment figuratively refers to Liberia in his incisive book about that nation’s history.
The first of those African-Americans was Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1809, Roberts emigrated with his family in 1829 to Liberia, a fledgling colony on the West Coast of Africa which had been founded only nine years earlier by the American Colonization Society as an abode for free blacks and former slaves from the US. And, when Liberia declared itself an independent republic on July 26, 1847, Roberts became its first president.
Birth Of A Lone Star Nation: The Convoluted Story Of Africa’s First Republic
Ciment’s well-researched book, ANOTHER AMERICA: The Story of Liberia And The Former Slaves Who Ruled It, is an engrossing historical account about the birthing of an African nation by free blacks and ex-slaves as a haven from racial oppression in antebellum America, into a world that seemed, from its first birth pangs, extremely inimical to its existence.
Buffeted by white paternalism, debilitating tropical diseases, acrimonious wars with neighboring tribes, and the encroaching threat of imperialistic nations, Ciment literally breathes life into the story of this highly unlikely, but equally enthralling account of an unprecedented attempt at nation building by former slaves from America through his skillful use of extensive contemporary historical accounts, including diary records of key figures in the nation’s history and newspaper articles. Ciment employs a narrative style that will make readers feel they are being guided on a personal tour through the various critical stages of Africa’s first independent nation struggles to survive and forge a common polity.
With the backdrop of their dehumanizing experience of chattel slavery in America on their minds, Liberia’s founding fathers created their nation “…to evince to all who despise, ridicule and oppress our race that we possess with them a common nature; are with them susceptible to equal refinement, and capable to equal advancement in all that adorns and dignifies man.” But, notwithstanding their noble purpose, the nation they created did not treat all its citizens as equals and was even accused of engaging in forced labor practices similar to slavery.
Ciment’s Another America intricately traces the footsteps of Liberia’s African-American founders and their descendants, who were later called Americo-Liberians, along their path to create a nation of their own in Africa. It is a story that is on the one hand, bubbling with idealism about a people’s quest to break off the yoke of racial oppression and, on the other, festering with tales of their marginalization of the indigenous African population and the tragedy it caused.
Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, once said: “experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” This speaks true to the leadership of the African-Americans and their descendants who dominated politics in Liberia for over 130 years until their reign was violently overthrown under the cover of darkness on April 12, 1980 in a military coup that ushered in the leadership of Samuel Doe, Liberia’s first indigenous leader.
But the cleavages from the years of African-American settler oligarchical rule, and their failure to heed the voices of men like Edward Wilmot Blyden, who called for a more inclusive and equitable society during the nation’s early years, had become so engorged, that it would burst over, pushing Liberia down the path of a devastating civil war less than a decade later.
Another America is an intricately woven book that illuminates in vivid details the kaleidoscope of events that colored Liberia’s tenuous path to forging a political comity. It presents an encompassing historical panorama about the story of Africa’s first republic in a manner that will help readers see “the bigger picture.”