February 6, 1820: American Colonization Society Sends 86 Blacks BACK to Africa!

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A Brief History

On February 6, 1820, The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America (better known as the American Colonization Society) sent the first 86 African Americans back to Africa to form a new country of freed slaves and free born African Americans, Liberia.  (Note: February is Black History Month!)

Digging Deeper

Obviously, not all White Americans were enamored of the “peculiar institution” that was human slavery, and some of these people actually did something about their strongly held moral convictions.  Robert Finley of New Jersey was such a man, and he founded the ACS in order to allow free African Americans the opportunity to return to their ancestral homeland.  Finley had begun a career as a professor, and had briefly held the position of President of the University of Georgia.  His time in the South exposed him to the horror of human bondage and led to his founding of the ACS.  Unfortunately he died in 1817 before his organizational and fund raising efforts had yielded actual relocation of African Americans.

Other contributors and supporters of Finley included John Randolph (Congressman and Senator), Henry Clay (Congressman and Senator), Richard Bland Lee (Attorney General and member of THE Lee family), and the colorfully named Bushrod Washington (nephew of George Washington and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court).

Liberia was originally founded as an American colony for the purpose of relocating free African Americans, and by 1847 after thousands of African Americans had moved there declared its independence.  The movement to repatriate sub-Saharan Blacks back to Africa had started right after the American Revolution, with a British outfit known as Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organization that settled free Black people in Sierra Leone, in a conclave known as Province of Freedom, mainly for escaped slaves.

As the number of free African Americans grew, southern slave owning Whites started to support the relocation of free African Americans to Liberia, as having large numbers of free African Americans was seen as a threat to the peaceful compliance of African slaves.  John Randolph was one of the slave owning whites that saw free Blacks as a “problem” in America, and oddly enough such bigoted Whites thus supported the movement!  Things actually deteriorated to the point that some abolitionists labeled the ACS as a pro-slavery organization and denounced the efforts to relocate African Americans.  Still, the ACS remained in existence even after slavery was outlawed in the US until it was finally dissolved in 1964.

The native people of West Africa were none too glad to have Americans plunk other Africans on their doorstep, displacing the residential populations and creating conflict.  (It seem Whites were not too particular about returning Africans to exactly where they had come from in the first place.)  The transplanted Blacks, called “Americo-Liberians,” dominated Liberian politics until the 1980’s when native people garnered more power.  Sadly, Liberia has devolved into the typical African model of Civil War and unrest, abuse of power, exploitation by foreign businesses and general malaise.  In 2014 the Ebola Epidemic reached Liberia.  Liberia is a small (43,000 square miles) West African equatorial country of 4.5 million people.  The 3rd poorest country in the world, the main products of Liberia are Iron Ore, Timber, and Rubber.  The capital and largest city is named Monrovia in honor of the former US President, James Monroe.

Question for students (and subscribers): Was it right to send free Africans back to Africa?  Should a larger effort to do so have been made, especially with government involvement after the Civil War?  Was the transport of free African Americans really racist after all?  Please share your thoughts and opinions about the ACS and its efforts to relocated free African Americans in Liberia in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see PBS.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.