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How thousands of freed Black Americans were relocated to West Africa

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In the 1800s, the American Colonization Society relocated thousands of freed Black Americans to West Africa. It led to the creation of Liberia.

  • The American Colonization Society’s mission was to relocate freed Black Americans to Africa.
  • Starting in 1820, thousands of Black emigrants were shipped to what would become Liberia.
  • The society’s segregationist ideology has a lasting impact on America and Liberia.

On December 21, 1816, a group of fifty white elites gathered in a Washington, D.C. hotel to discuss the future of freed Black Americans.

Following the American Revolution, the number of freed Black Americans had grown from 60,000 in 1790 to 300,000 by 1830. The American Colonization Society emerged as the solution, with the mission of shipping Black people to a colony in Africa.

African Americans depart for Liberia, 1896.

African Americans depart for Liberia, 1896. The American Colonization Society sent its last emigrants to Liberia in 1904.Digital Collections, The New York Public Library

The organization was the brainchild of the Reverend Robert Finley, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey. The ACS’ early supporters included some of the nation’s most powerful and influential men, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Francis Scott Key, as well as slave-owning US presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison.

“Can there be a nobler cause than that which, while it proposes to rid our country of a useless and pernicious, if not a dangerous portion of our population, contemplates the spreading of the arts of civilized life?” Clay said in his opening address.

Membership certificate of Rev. Samuel Rose Ely, dated March 1840. The Society’s president Henry Clay’s signature is visible at the bottom right.Library of Virginia

Colonization, the state-sponsored emigration and resettlement of freed Black Americans outside America, was widely supported in the US for religious, economic, and social reasons. Even after its dissolution in 1964, the ACS has left a lasting legacy of segregationist sentiment in both America and abroad, according to historians.

“The establishment of the American Colonization Society was a watershed moment in American history,” Eric Burin, a history professor at the University of North Dakota, said. “What you have is a powerful white organization propounding a vision of America as a white person’s country, and African Americans responding with a resounding rebuttal that it’s their country, too.”

A ‘miserable mockery’

The ACS attracted a diverse crowd of white individuals, including slaveholders who saw colonization as a way to remove freed Blacks, whom they feared would cause chaos by helping their slaves escape or rebel.

Many white Americans also believed that African Americans were inferior, and should be relocated to a place where they could live in peace away from the shackles of slavery. Abraham Lincoln held this belief, which led him to support a plan to relocate 5,000 Black Americans to the Caribbean in the 1860s.

The ACS also had a religious mission of Christianizing Africa to “civilize” the continent, according to historian Marc Leepson.

The initial reactions of the Black American community and abolitionists were nuanced. Some activists, like James Fortein, immediately rejected the ACS, writing in 1817 that “we have no wish to separate from our present homes for any purpose whatever”.

But some other Black abolitionists were cautiously interested in the notion of an emigration program. Martin Delany, who was dismissed from Harvard Medical School after white students petitioned against the inclusion of Black students, claimed that even abolitionists would never accept Black Americans as equals, and so the solution lay in the emigration of all Black Americans.

“We are a nation within a nation,” Delany wrote. “We must go from among our oppressors.”

But even Delany ultimately condemned the ACS’s hallmark plan to send Black Americans to Liberia, decrying it as a “miserable mockery” of an independent republic.

It led to the creation of Liberia

As the ACS grew, it sought to create a colony in West Africa. On February 6, 1820, 86 freed Black Americans set sail to the continent.

Map of Liberia, 1850.

An 1850 map of Liberia. Pencil annotations were made to change the report to “by the American Colonization Society,” and to add place names.American Colonization Society/Library of Congress

The initial expedition — and the expeditions that followed — proved to be disastrous as disease and famine struck. Of the more than 4,500 emigrants who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 40% were alive by 1843.

But the ACS, backed by funding from state and federal governments, continued to send more freed Blacks. In 1821, the society purchased Cape Mesurado from the indigenous people — by threatening the use of force, according to some accounts.

The land surrounding Cape Montserrado would later be known as Liberia, “the free land.” Its capital was renamed Monrovia in honor of James Monroe, an ardent supporter of the ACS.

The settlers developed an Americo-Liberian society that was strongly influenced by their roots in the American South, according to Burin. Americo-Liberians wielded vast socioeconomic and political power over the indigenous people — which planted the seeds for the Liberian Civil War of 1989.

“The Americo-Liberians realized they could essentially exploit the indigenous people for labor,” Burin told Insider. But it was a way for indigenous people to gain access to resources and education as well.

A lasting legacy of segregationist sentiment

Though the ACS eventually dissolved in 1964 after continuous opposition from abolitionists and a lack of interest by free Black Americans, historians said it shaped — and continues to shape — the country’s discussions of race.

“One of the ACS’ lasting legacies was the underlying ideology that drove the colonization movement forward: that Black people really aren’t Americans, at least not in the way that white people are,” Burin said.

The sentiment manifested itself in policies like Jim Crow-era segregation, and still has a grip on some Americans to this day.

A photo of children in Liberia, taken during an ACS mission trip in 1900.American Colonization Society Collection/Library of Congress via Getty Images

The second legacy of the ACS is Liberia itself. In 1847, Liberians declared the country an independent nation, becoming the second Black republic in the Atlantic after Haiti.

“The ACS founded a country that has had a distinctive influence over debates of freedom, slavery, and race today,” Burin said.

♦ Culled from the Insider

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More Cameroon U-17 players fail age testing enforced by Eto’o

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Culled from the BBC

Cameroon’s Under-17s face a race against time to field a team for regional African Cup of Nations qualifiers after more players failed age tests ordered by Samuel Eto’o, president of the country’s governing body, Fecafoot.

The former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker’s insistence on using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) screening saw the squad ravaged at their training camp in Mbankomo, on the outskirt of Yaounde.

Of the initial 30-member group, 21 failed the tests.

But BBC Sport Africa now understands Cameroon have suffered a fresh setback as 11 new players also failed tests on Tuesday, with coach Jean Pierre Fiala struggling to find replacements.

Cameroon host Congo, Chad, DR Congo and Central African Republic for the Central African Football Federations’ Union (UNIFFAC) qualifiers between 12 and 24 January, with two teams progressing to April’s Under-17 Nations Cup in Algeria.

A Fecafoot statement said Eto’o gave “strict instructions” for the actions to be taken “in order to put an end to the tampering with civil status records which have, in the past, tarnished the image of Cameroon football.

“Fecafoot urges all actors, in particular educators, to ensure that the ages by category are respected.”

The fight against age cheats

Many of Africa’s international successes in junior tournaments have been clouded by allegations of the use of over-age players.

Football’s world governing body Fifa introduced MRI scans at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup, which took place in Nigeria.

The MRI works by scanning the wrist to study how advanced the bone structure is

In 2017, Fecafoot blocked 14 players from taking part in the Under-17 Afcon in Gabon after they failed the tests.

Eto’o promised to take action to combat the long-running problem when he was elected Fecafoot president in December 2021 and Simon Lyonga, a journalist with Cameroon’s national broadcaster CRTV, says the decision to weed out age cheats has been applauded by the public.

“Here in Cameroon, people are by and large pleased that Fecafoot actually seem to be doing something to try to stop the cheating,” Lyonga told BBC Sport Africa.

“It is important for the country to give chances to players of the right age.”

Cameroon have twice been continental champions at Under-17 level, in 2003 and 2019.

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Prominent LGBTQ Activist Edwin Chiloba Found Dead in Metal Box

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Police in Kenya are investigating whether the LGBTQ rights activist and fashion designer Edwin Chiloba was murdered in a hate crime.

The decomposing body of Chiloba, who had spoken of being attacked in the past, was found in a metal box by the side of road near the town of Eldoret on Wednesday and identified a day later. A moto-taxi driver reported seeing the metal box being dumped by men in a car with no license plates, according to the BBC.

Chiloba has spoken out for gay rights in Kenya, where sex between men is illegal and punishable by 14 years’ prison time. The country’s LGBTQ community, largely suppressed, spoke out against the murder. “Words cannot even explain how we as a community are feeling right now,” the organization Galck+ posted on Twitter. “Another soul lost due to hate. You will be missed.”

Police have not revealed how Chiloba was murdered or how long his body had been in the box before the grim discovery. He last posted on his verified Instagram account on Dec. 29, when he wished his supporters happy holidays.

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OMG: At 34, Burkina’s new junta chief is world’s youngest leader

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Just two weeks ago, 34-year-old Ibrahim Traore was an unknown, even in his native Burkina Faso.

But in the space of a weekend, he catapulted himself from army captain to the world’s youngest leader — an ascent that has stoked hopes but also fears for a poor and chronically troubled country.

Traore, at the head of a core of disgruntled junior officers, ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power just in January.

The motive for the latest coup — as in January — was anger at failures to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven nearly two million people from their homes.

A few days after the September 30 coup, Traore was declared president and “guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity… and continuity of the State.”

At that lofty moment, Traore became the world’s youngest leader, wresting the title from Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a whole two years older.

Ibrahim Traore: Burkina Faso's new leader is Africa's youngest at 34 years

And on Friday, a national forum made up of about 300 delegates named Traore interim president until elections are held in July 2024, two members of the ruling junta told AFP.

Traore’s previously unknown face is now plastered on portraits around the capital Ouagadougou.

His photo is even on sale in the main market, alongside portraits of Burkina’s revered radical leader Thomas Sankara, assassinated in 1987, and of Jesus.

– Military career –

Traore was born in Bondokuy, in western Burkina Faso, and studied geology in Ouagadougou before joining the army in 2010.

He graduated as an officer from the Georges Namonao Military School — a second-tier institution compared to the prestigious Kadiogo Military Academy (PMK) of which Damiba and others in the elite are alumni.

Traore emerged second in his class, a contemporary told AFP, describing him as “disciplined and brave.”

After graduation, he gained years of experience in the fight against the jihadists.

He served in the badly-hit north and centre of the country before heading to a posting in neighbouring Mali in 2018 in the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission.

He was appointed captain in 2020.

A former superior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, recounted an incident that occurred in 2020 when the town of Barsalogho in central Burkina was on the verge of falling to the jihadists.

The highway into Barsalogho was believed to have been mined, so Traore led his men on a “commando trek” across the countryside, arriving in time to free the town, he said.

When Damiba took power in January, ousting elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Traore became a member of the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR), as the junta chose to call itself.

– Discontent –

In March, Damiba promoted Traore to head of artillery in the Kaya regiment in the centre of the country.

But it was a move that ironically would sow the seeds of Damiba’s own downfall.

The regiment became a cradle of discontent, and Traore, tasked by his colleagues with channelling their frustrations, made several trips to Ouagadougou to plead their case with Damiba.

Disillusionment at the response turned into anger, which appears to have crystallised into resolve to seize power after an attack on a convoy in northern Burkina last month that left 27 soldiers and 10 civilians dead.

“Captain Traore symbolises the exasperation of junior officers and the rank and file,” said security consultant Mahamoudou Savadogo.

The new president faces a daunting task in regaining the upper hand over the jihadist groups, some affiliated with Al-Qaeda and others with the Islamic State group. They have steadily gained ground since they launched their attacks from Mali in 2015.

Yet Traore has promised to do “within three months” what “should have been done in the past eight months,” making a direct criticism of his predecessor.

Savadogo warned that one soldier overthrowing another illustrates “the deteriorating state of the army, which hardly exists any more and which has just torn itself apart with this umpteenth coup d’etat”.

Traore’s takeover comes during a struggle for influence between France and Russia in French-speaking Africa, where former French colonies are increasingly turning to Moscow.

Demonstrators who rallied for him in Ouagadougou during the standoff with Damiba waved Russian flags and chanted anti-France slogans.

Traore seems — for now — to bring hope to many in a country sinking steadily in the quagmire.

“He embodies renewal, a generational renewal, a break with old practices,” said Monique Yeli Kam, who came to the national forum representing her party, the Movement for Burkina’s Renaissance, in order to “support and defend the vision of national unity”.

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