On July 26, 1865, just a few months after the end of the American Civil War on May 9, the reverberations of that bloody conflict, ignited by the issue of slavery in the US and the rights of its people of African ancestry, did not go unfelt in the fledgling nation of Liberia, which was founded by freed men and women, and former slaves from America, as they celebrated their nation’s eighteenth year of Independence.
“Descendants of Africa, in other parts of the world, have been contributing, by noble deeds to the vindication of the race. And we cannot, in this connection, refrain from referring, with admiration, to the heroic deeds of our brethen in the United States. Indeed, we should be unpardonably indifferent if we could remain silent and unmoved spectators of such heroism, unlooked for by their oppressors, as they have displayed. We feel proud of their martial deeds and their valorous demeanor. We rejoice with them in their brilliant achievements and magnificent success,” intoned Edward W. Blyden, one of Liberia’s foremost intellectuals and an early proponent of pan-Africanism, in his Independence Day oration titled: Our Origins, Dangers and Duties.
Blyden was referring to the valor displayed by African Americans who had fought in the Union Army to defeat the southern slave-holding states that made up the Confederacy, and thereby, wresting their freedom from slavery’s clutches. Then, as the only independent African nation, Blyden said that notwithstanding “various discouragements and difficulties, joys and sorrows — in sunshine and shadow…” Liberians needed to strive to make their nation a prosperous and great nation.
As Liberia celebrates her 169th Independence Day, many of the themes that Blyden touched on in his speech still resonate today. Liberia has certainly experienced more than her fair share of vicissitudes through her years as an independent nation, including the appropriation of her territory by France and England during the early years of her independence, the challenge to forge an egalitarian union for the good of all her citizens, and an intractable number of years under a plethora of corrupt and myopic regimes, but Liberians would do well, more than ever before, to heed Blyden’s call to strive to live “in the glow of one common cordiality” for the welfare of the whole nation.
“We must as a holy and solemn duty, labor to benefit our country. We must not content ourselves with joining the general depreciation and lamentation concerning national decline and ruin. We must, we are in duty bound, to do all we can, by earnest effort and self-denial, to arrest the downward tendency of things. The love of country is a virtue. We are bound to seek it’s honor and welfare. We are under the strongest obligations to live, labor and suffer in its behalf,” Blyden said.