An African Republic: Black & White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

An African Republic: Black & White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

An African Republic: Black & White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

An African Republic: Black & White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

Synopsis

The 19th-century American Colonization Society (ACS) project of persuading all American free blacks to emigrate to the ACS colony of Liberia could never be accomplished. Who supported African colonization and why? No state was more involved with the project than Virginia. Tyler-McGraw traces the parallel but seldom intersecting tracks of black and white Virginians' interests in African colonization. African colonization attracted aging revolutionaries, republican mothers and their daughters, bondpersons schooled and emancipated for Liberia, evangelical planters and merchants, urban free blacks, opportunistic politicians, Quakers, and gentlemen novelists. Tyler-McGraw follows the experiences of the emigrants from Virginia to Liberia, where some became the leadership class, consciously seeking to demonstrate black abilities, while others found greater hardship and early death.

Excerpt

At the Library of Congress I first saw some Liberian paper currency from
the 1830—a rooster on one bill and an ox on another. the value of the
currency was expressed in dollars. This was my introduction to the Ameri
can Colonization Society and its colony of Liberia in West Africa, and I
wondered if these icons of American agriculture had transplanted as easily
to Africa as the decimal-based currency system. As I looked at documents
that described the society’s founding and its acquisition of land in western
Africa, it was unclear to me what the intentions of the society were. Did the
African colonization movement hope to end slavery in the early republic by
encouraging slave emancipation with African colonization as a catalyst?
Or did the society intend simply to send all free blacks to Africa, thus rein
forcing whiteness as a basis for liberty in the United States? Why did any
free blacks go there?How could the advocates and emigrants imagine—or
dream—that their scheme would work?

The American colonization society (ACS) has frequently been seen as a sideshow in nineteenth-century American history and one in which some of the nation’s more bizarre and racist concepts were on display. But the acs, though seldom in the spotlight, occupied part of the center ring of the American experience in that century. With racial identities and a national narrative undergoing construction and revision, the acs fixed on the problem that embedded white prejudice would severely restrict black achievement for generations. Its solution — an African republic—was problematic in itself. It promised to diminish the free black presence in America while offering a model of black achievement in Africa. Far from being exotic and marginal, the history of the acs is central to understanding nineteenth-century American meanings for citizenship in a republic and race as a category.

Formed in December 1816 in Washington, D.C., by white men . . .

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