Sunday, January 16, 2011
Two incidents in 1920's Liberia Showed the Black World the limits of White Supremacy.The Sandemannie and Worley Incidents
Liberia was founded as a haven for Africans in the west seeking freedom and independence.The whole point of Liberia was to have a place where African Americans can build themselves without interference from Whites.It was clear to many thinkers during that time period that Blacks needed to server ties with White America in order to become a people.White Paternalism was even more dangerous than brutality because it confirmed the notion that Blacks were children and needed guidance from white benefactors.In Liberia by the end of World War 1 many generations of African Americans grew up being governed by fellow blacks.Many had never been called a nigger.None were ever massacred like in Tulsa(Black Wall Street)and Rosewood.They were used to seeing their leaders at the League of Nations.Sitting down like other sovereign people safe within their borders.This is what freedom is all about.Now when you yield any part of that you give up your sovereignty.Liberia was a proud Black Republic and the Sandemannie and Worley incidents are going to show what happens when White Supremacy is brought to a free proud Black African state.-KALAGENESIS
The first negative reaction to American activities came in February 1918,when a revolt by the Goije and Kongba clans of the Gola broke out against the government.Secretary of the Interior John L Morris was sent to investigate the situation.After a two month stay in the northwestern part of the republic.Morris came to the conclusion that one of the main factors leading to the revolt was the conduct of administration officials.He noted in particular the behavior of two African American or Americo-Liberian officials.Henry J Howard and James R Howard who had abused their authority by collecting large sums of money and generally mistreating the native population,especially the Gola.Morris we find ourselves in an awful predicament.The whole interior is fermenting as a result of the rule of these commissioners.It is only by extremely careful handling that one may hope to restore a decent state of affairs.
On the face of it there was no connection between the Americans serving in Liberia and the outbreak of the Gola revolt.Morris report devoted a full nine pages to a description of Howards misdeeds;his appointment,Morris argued had been a mistake from the beginning.Since Howard had been Major Young's personal choice for the position there was in fact a link drawn between U.S. officials and the Gola outbreak.Morris had probably come to the conclusion that the reforms forced upon the government by the military attache,financial adviser and the American minister in 1915 had led neither to to the strenghthening of African American rule nor to the establishment of an effective administration but to the reverse:there was now more corruption,as well as the deterioration of Liberian authority in the Northwest.The Americans in his opinion was to blame for the situation no less than the Liberians since they had attributed failure to the Liberians alone without talking any responsibility upon themselves.In addition U.S. officials in Liberia had presented further demands that were likely to broaden their power and involve them even more in Liberian internal affairs.
Yet another factor leading to the resentment of the Americans was the high handed manner of American officials towards their African American counterparts.Instances in which Liberians were disciplined or punished were interpreted as acts of mistreatment in which Black men were humiliated by Whites.
The most serious dispute was the Sandemannie Affair,which involved three people Mitchell an American district commissioner H.A. Sawyer,and an Americo-Liberian commissioner of an area bordering the French territories and of two additional district,Garma and Sanniquellie.In 1920 Sawyer accused Sandemannie of keeping slaves,taking government money and transferring government property to his name.As a consequence of these accusations Mitchell sent a note announcing Sandemannie's dismissal and ordered the commissioner to present himself immediately to Monrovia.Sawyer who carried these messages was ordered to chain Sandemannie if resisted.
Upon his arrival in Monrovia,Sandemannie reported to his superior the Secretary of the Interior complaining that Sawyer had taken advantage of the situation and had ordered him chained without justification.As a result Sandemannie had been led all the way to Monrovia a twelve day journey in chains humiliated and degraded.Such behavior expressed the with of White Americans to control Liberia,Sandemannie added"While on the way from Sanniquelle I could hear the surprised natives making this remark:Now we know the White man has taken the country away from the Black people in Monrovia;for see White men have put the D.C. in chains and sending him out of the country.
Sandemannie was closely related to a number of Liberian leaders.In addition he was the protege of both ex President Barclay and the president elect Charles DB King(1920-1920).As a result his public arrest was widely reported in the Liberian press.The Bulletin of November 6,1920 for example printed an article titled"Is Liberia becoming a Georgia or Texas?which severely denounced a situation in which a White American could take the liberty of chaining and humiliating a Liberian without trial.Seven days later another article appeared which followed an investigation of the charges against Sandemannie.The reporter had discovered that Sandemannie did in fact keep slaves in various place in the Vai country,and had indeed sent his family money that had been illegally obtained.But at the same time the newspapers attacked the Americans serving in Liberia particularly Sawyer who had chained Sandemannie and humiliated him unnecessarily.
Another newspaper The Monrovia Weekly Review,wrote that Mitchell came from the state of Georgia.In his hometown the paper reported,there were posters saying'Niggers Read and Run.The paper remarked that Sandemannie's arrest was the first such humiliating incident to occur in the Liberian republic.
The Storm of resentment and indignation triggered by the Sandemannie affair reached new peaks following another incident The Worley Affair
This time the object was H.E. Worley the financial adviser from the U.S. government.Together with Ernest Lyon,the Liberian consul general in the U.S. Worley had represented the Liberian government in negotiations involving a 5 million loan from the U.S.The loan was intended to rehabilitate Liberia's economy following the close of WW1.After working out the details of the agreement,Worley went back to Liberia on a ship from Baltimore.Before leaving however he granted an interview to a local newspaper.Worley was described in the article as the King of Liberia a man obeyed and admired by the leaders of Liberia.The article in glowing terms the reception awaiting Worley upon his arrival in Monrovia with the draft agreement.
The article might well have gone unnoticed by the African American elite in Liberia had not Lyon taken the trouble of sending copies of the newspapers to his two son in laws who happened to be the Secretary of the Interior and Treasury.The publication added to the bitterness and resentment of the African American community in Liberia.Anti American feelings reached a boiling point there were even attempts to physically attack Americans serving in Liberia.Major Young,Bundy and even Mitchell became the target of insults and threats while walking the streets of Monrovia.On May 24,1920 Mitchell became involved in a street fight with a Liberian who cursed him and refused to let him pass.Mitchell hit him and the Liberian fell down.The next day when the Liberia police came to arrest Mitchell sought refuge in the American delegation's residence.A messenger was sent to accompany him to the President.When both arrived at the president's office it became clear that invitation had been a strategem to get Mitchell out of the delegation's residence and thus enable his arrest.The commissioner general was tried the same day and a fine of 50 dollars was imposed on him.Moreover the the Liberian he had attacked presented a suit for damages in the sum of 3000 dollars.The whole thing was an attempt to arrest and humiliate Mitchell.Worley was declared persona non grata in an official letter to the U.S. government and the Liberians wanted all of the American advisers out of Liberia.They accused the Americans of trying to take over the country and being the first Black republic any hints of paternalism was not to be tolerated.They rejected the loan out of pride and dignity.Liberia was a true example of Black pride in a world of White Supremacy.The U.S. State dept and Military would have its revenge 60 years later when they financed the overthrow of the Black American elite helping Samuel Kanyon Doe become the first indigenous President of the country.
References are from:Black Colonialism/Americo Liberian Scramble for the hinterland