12 April 2011

Liberia: Remembering April 12 1980


This edition of the New Democrat takes a cursory look at a momentous event, April 12 1980, the Saturday morning that transformed the face of this country in many dimensions.

For those old enough to remember it, and those too young not to be scarred by it, reflections are necessary if such an event should forever be avoided.

President William R. Tolbert, Jr., fell on the floor of the now abandoned Executive Mansion, unable to survive the executioner's bullets. Others, 13 of his colleagues in government, fell to the same ghastly fate, shot with their backs against the roaring Atlantic Ocean.

Nevertheless, passing judgment on the day is history's responsibility. But the inhuman face of it all is a matter of conscience.

Thus one question lingers on the conscience of many: was it worth it? One answer has come from one of those marching at the frontline of the coup at the time--the People's Redemption Council junta's Chief of Staff, General Henry Dubah: it was not worth it, he has ruled.

But fate would play its role nevertheless. President Tolbert's parents, including his father William Richard Tolbert, Sr., migrated to Liberia in April 1878. He was born here, and was executed as President in April 1980, 102 years later.

The Tolbert family, as part of the great enthusiasm amongst many Blacks to return to Africa at the time, left the U.S on a ship called the Azor, which they had purchased along with several hundred other Black South Carolinians in a group called the Liberian Exodus Movement, according to historical accounts.

The accounts: "Daniel Frank Tolbert age 27 with his wife Sarah and 9 year old son William Richard Tolbert were from a little town called 'Ninety Six' in Abbeville County, which is a few miles from Greenwood. Daniel Frank Tolbert left siblings in the U.S.

"In 1878, African Americans in South Carolina formed their own organization to return Africans to their ancestral land. It was called the Liberian Stock Exchange Inc., commonly known as the 'Liberian Exodus.' Through this organization, 206 people left the Port of Charleston in April 1878 for Liberia. Among those who left were Frank Tolbert, his wife, Sara, and their son, William. The younger Tolbert became known as William Tolbert, Sr., and his son, William Tolbert, Jr., was Liberia's president from 1971-1980."

This is a history laden with sadness, in that the dream of discovering Africa as bounty of freedom and equality turned into horrifying story of executions, wars and mayhem long after Tolbert's death.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a standing monument of those years, in reflection, last week called for prayers against the omen of April. She said the country needs reconciliation and this must be, because the horrors of the past cannot justify the decay of today.

In remembering April 12 1980, we simply suggest that those values responsible should be confronted if a viable nation beyond ethnicity and other divisive forces are to be conquered. The past should warn against the present, and the present against the future.

Indeed, we must remember April 12 1980.

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