Thursday, November 6, 2014

Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ebola and U.S. History

I caught just a few minutes this morning of Terry Gross on Fresh Air interviewing Helene Cooper, who is a Liberian-born American journalist (currently Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times.) And immediately I remembered my recent post on slavery, and that I neglected an opportunity to bring in current events.

The current news about Ebola in West Africa offers an opportunity to teach students a
little something about the history of Liberia, Sierra Leone and the American Colonization Society.

Even as a history teacher, I am guilty--like most Americans--of knowing far too little about the history of Africa. But I do know that the Liberian flag bears a striking resemblance to our own.

And the Liberian capital, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe, who supported the colonization of Liberia. And "Liberia" comes from "Liberty." And that it was settled by a group of former American slaves and aided by the American Colonization Society.

It is unfortunate that it takes a terrible epidemic to remind me about this important connection. Ebola or no ebola, we ought to familiarize our students with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Whenever I taught about the American Colonization Society in the past, I did at least mention these facts above. And students were really amazed and surprised that they had never heard this before. Discussing the American Colonization Society opens up a Pandora's box of questions about race in America. It is always eye-opening, if uncomfortable, for students to recognize that white abolitionists might be opposed to slavery for racist reasons.

For more information, check out the websites below.  The Library of Congress, especially, has some good resources.

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