Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia

Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia

Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia

Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia

Excerpt

In the spring of 1980, in Flint, Michigan, I received two phone calls in the middle of the night that drastically altered my life and signaled a lasting change in Liberia. At the time, I was preparing to return there to live. In several trips to Liberia during the 1970s, President William R. Tolbert, Jr. had convinced me I could better serve at home. He was a good friend, having done much for my Mende people. I had just signed a purchase agreement to sell our house. Everything seemed in place.

This return would add another chapter to my Liberian saga, since my arrival in America in 1950. As a boy, I learned that my last name “Dennis” stemmed from the transatlantic slave trade. My father told me that some of our Mende people in West Africa had been taken into slavery in America. In Richmond, Virginia, the two Dennis brothers became Free Negroes, each owning three or four slaves themselves. During the 1800s, they returned to Liberia, freeing their slaves and taking them with them. One of the brothers remained on the coast in the capital, Monrovia, as an Americo-Liberian. The other, knowing his Mende ancestry, traveled to the area where the Mende live in Liberia. There, he was accepted as a descendant of someone taken into slavery from the line of the great Mende chief, Ngombu Tejjeh.

In 1976, I discovered my American roots. One morning, when I walked into my office at the University of Michigan–Flint, I saw a young black woman sitting at my desk. After she explained that her name was Vicki and she was taking a make-up exam, she said, “Is that your name on the door—Dr. Dennis? That’s our family name.”

I said, “Are you a native of Flint?”

“No, we come from Virginia.”

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