The current news about Ebola in West Africa offers an opportunity to teach students a
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.
- a brief History of Liberia which then links to primary sources about colonization and Liberia from the Library of Congress.
- Did you know that before the Civil War, Robert E. Lee freed most of his slaves and offered to pay to send them to Liberia? Neither did I! Read more about that here (includes other primary sources about Liberia.)
- The Gilder Lehrman's Institute of American History has information on the American Colonization Society. (You need to be a member in order to take full advantage of the discussion questions on this link. Membership is free to teachers, and if you've never visited this website, it is worth signing up and checking it out. Learn more about what they do by clicking here.)
- PBS overview of Liberia and the U.S.
- Article by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about Paul Cuffee and colonization in Africa.
- At history.com you can read a bit about the first organized immigration of freed slaves.
- Check out this article from the New York Times, Feb 1862 about the recognition of Haiti and Liberia.