Monday, May 14, 2012

A Bit Of The US South In Africa

Americo-Liberian Home in Edina, Liberia
photo by Ken Vogel

Liberia is an African Republic with towns that have US sounding names like New Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana.  The reason goes back to our own US history when the US government funded an organization called the American Colonization Society (ACS) to purchase land in Africa to send "free people of color" back to Africa.  What was some of the reasoning behind this?

"Congo-style" house, Robertsport, Liberia
Ever since the Haitian slave revolt many slaveholders were terrified of the idea that their slaves might also revolt.  Seeing or hearing about these "free people of color" walking about might give slaves the motivation they needed to revolt.  So many Southern slaveholders joined the ACS and many had the intention of sending any slave they freed back to Africa instead of being allowed to walk about free and proud in the antebellum South.  There are also claims that some of these freed slaves were children born to master's through their slaves that they wanted to hide away from their community by sending them to Africa.  This was one line of thought in the ACS.

"Congo Home" Edina, Liberia
photo by Ken Vogel
The ACS was also joined by abolitionists who surely made strange bedfellows with the slaveholders.  Their reasoning was that it is not safe for a "free person of color" to stay in the US.  A freed person would have to carry around paperwork proving they were free and could be stopped at any time simple due to the color of their skin.  The opportunities available to a person of minority skin color were also very limited in the US and many who opposed slavery didn't just want people free they wanted them to be able to thrive in a viable society.  Many of these people foresaw the decades upon decades of integration issues that would surely follow after emancipation and wanted a better life for those who were freed.  They thought, "perhaps in going back to Africa they will have a better chance of living freely."  

Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Robertsport, Liberia
Many of the "Free People of Color" were fairly skeptical of the whole ordeal, but some saw the same opportunities that some of the abolitionists had seen.  In fact, it was a free person of color and devout Quaker "Paul Cuffee" that helped lay the groundwork for the ACS.  Many of these groups of freed slaves that returned to Liberia were also sponsored by churches to evangelize Africa.  The reasoning was that someone of the same skin color would be more effective in this missionary work, what had perhaps not been considered was that culture is not a matter of skin color.  These Americo-Liberians, as they are called, brought the South with them and converts were Americanized just as much or perhaps even more than Christianized.  One tragic part of the South that these freed slaves brought with them was that some of these Americo-Liberians enslaved the native Liberians to work on their plantations!   

Americo-Liberian Plantation, Edina, Liberia
photo by Ken Vogel
What I'm sharing with you today are some of these Americo-Liberian homes and/or plantations and churches that sprung up all along the coast of Liberia.  I find them quite beautiful even in their deteriorated states.  The native Liberians call the Americo-Liberians "Congo" and call these houses "Congo Houses" so that is why they are sometimes so captioned.  To someone from the US they definitely resemble old Southern architecture and it is rather surreal to see the US South standing in the middle of a tropical rain forest in Africa! 

Congo Home, Edina, Liberia - photo by Ken Vogel

Memorial to Americo-Liberian and Liberian president Joseph Cheeseman in front of
US Southern - style home, Edina, Liberia
photo by Ken Vogel
Congo Homes in Robertsport, Liberia
Congo Home in Robertsport, Liberia
Congo House on a Hill - Robertsport, Liberia

Congo home in Robertsport, Liberia
If you'd like to see some more pictures of these Liberian Congo-style homes you can check them out on this interesting site I found here.  


  1. Fascinating info Heath and some good photos from your Dad. There is definitely a strong connection between the US and Liberia that most people don't know about.

  2. The only thing wrong with this is the writer keeps misleading people in believing the architecture was from the American South.Yes but the African American South.Black Americans in the Carolina's and the South had a unique form of house building.They constructed mansions similar but different than Whites.Do the Blacks get any credit for having a culture and architecture before they arrived in Africa from America?Also the Christianity they brought was very Africanized such as Lott Cary AMB Church,The AME Zion church,African Methodist Episcopal Church.These were returning Africans with a unique culture hybrid Western and African

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  4. For clarity - Credit for a unique culture should be understood by readers in the name "Americo-Liberian", which appears in the above blog numerous times. This hyphenated name communicates the existence of a unique cultural hybrid by its very construction.

    To clarify further - besides the contributions mentioned above the Americo-Liberians that came to Liberia left the US South with African religious and architectural influences that they had brought with them from Africa. It could be said that the cultures found in the US South were themselves already influenced by Africa when African Americans left them to come to Liberia with their own unique cultures.

    I say cultures (plural) because just like there is not just one hegemonic culture of the US South the same is true of the various settlement groups of Liberia. Worthy of note are the different Americo-Liberian cultures found in the different Americo-Liberian settlements of Liberia itself (i.e. settlements around the Mesurado River, St. John River, Maryland Colony, Lake Piso, etc.).

    To sum, today we can see African influences in the US and (especially in Liberia) we see US influences in Africa. We are all influencing one another (for better or worse) regardless of skin color or the geographic location of our ancestors.

    1. I agree my friend you are a true friend of Africa.I Think America missed an opportunity in Africa with Liberia.

  5. Hi Heath

    My family came from Careysburg, Montserrado county. My mother’s mother was a Urey, daughter of RD Urey who was a Judge and my mother married a Knuckles also from Careysburg.

    Do you have any old or new photographs of people and buildings in Careysburg?

    Great blog! My family and I were in the war until 1992 then managed to get to Ivory Coast. We left when I was 14 and I have not been back since. I am finding your blog very informative and interesting.


  6. Hi Audra

    I made it as far north as Johnsonville from Monrovia last year but not all the way to Careysburg. I might be headed to Kakata next time round and will see about checking out Careysburg on the way. I know how great it is to see pictures after being away for so long. It had been 25 years since I had been there until I finally returned. Very emotional and bittersweet. So, I will check and see if there are any older pics of that area as well, but I don't think so. Glad you all got to Ivory Coast during that time frame.

    Thanks for reading and I hope to post more soon...


  7. Very excellent blog I stumbled across while researching for a feature on Liberia's unique architecture. The piece will be included in a forthcoming review of African architecture and I would like, with your permission, to use some of your photographs and maybe a quote or two. Due credit will be given, of course. I think you have visited our page before, remember the name. Please do so again, and I'm not sure you've seen this:

    Thanks for a wonderful blog, and all the best,

    Anthony Morgan
    Project Director, HPSOL (Historical Preservation Society of Liberia)

    1. Yes of course Mr. Morgan. Use freely and keep up the good work of preserving Liberia's amazing history for all of us who love Liberia.

    2. Heath,

      I am so happy to have come across this blog. I think you have done a great job here, something not many Liberians would do for their own country.

      Even though we have history written by Liberians, most of Liberian history is written for foreign friends, centered around ACS and freed-slaves. The entrance of the freed slaves is not the beginning of Liberia, it only suggests, perhaps, the period in which history was being documented.

      On an old tribal map of Liberia, the Mandingo tribe is excluded. Was this a mistake or is it the original presentation of what existed at the time, relating to the tribes?


    3. I'm not sure which map you're referencing, but I have met some in Liberia who feel that the Mandingo are foreigners to the area. I'm not sure why they feel this way. There is a different history and culture and religion associated with the Mandingo and their centers of real influence are in other nations with other interests. Perhaps also there is some residual distrust due to their involvement in the slave trade. And lastly, they were later arrivals to the region as well. These are only my guesses though.

  8. Yes of course Mr. Morgan. Use freely and keep up the good work of preserving Liberia's amazing history for all of us who love Liberia.

  9. I'm budding folklorist with Liberian roots, living in Houston. Love your blog. I'm in search of a Texas/Liberia connection. Know of any? Awesome blog.

    1. Great! Yes, there are plenty of Liberians in Texas, especially in the Houston and Dallas areas. I believe th LAGH has an annual picnic for 26th celebrations somewhere in Houston.