Monday, May 7, 2012

What’s Up With The Liberian Flag?

Flag of the Republic of Liberia

A US citizen will immediately recognize that the Liberian flag looks an awful lot like our flag.  Why?  The reason is that Liberia was an African colony founded by US born individuals.  There were actually many US backed colonies with US sounding names like Mississippi-In-Africa and the Republic of Maryland.  You see, what happened was that many in the US population at that time (early 1800’s) were unsure and/or uncomfortable with how to integrate the “free people of color” (what free African Americans were called at that time).   So some US citizens founded the ACS (American Colonization Society) with the intention of sending these free people of color ‘back to Africa’.  I don’t know of any US schools that teach this in history class for whatever reason, but they should I think!

Old Stars and Stripes
So the short answer to the question about the flag is that freed slaves, born in the US, founded colonies in Africa and once these colonies organized into the Republic of Liberia in 1847 they adopted a flag like the flag of their country of origin. 

Today this flag is better known (at least in the Maritime Industry) for another reason:  a flag of convenience. You will often see a Liberian flag flying over a ship because the regulations and taxes are much less than most other ports of registry.    In fact, the tiny country of Liberia at one time held the largest registry of ships in the world!   Even to this day, the small nations of Liberia, Panama and Marshall Islands account for 40% of the world’s entire fleet.  This US-inspired flag now brings in much of Liberia’s revenue and the reason for this use of the Liberian flag also had US origins.

The Amoco Cadiz was a Liberian flagged ship that ran aground in 16 March 1978
and created the largest oil spill in history up to that date.  This event led to laws
giving port states more authority in inspected ships in their port.

Early in WWII Liberia became a key place to transport troops.  Troops would avoid German U-boats by going south from the US to Brazil and east over to Liberia where they would set out to engage the enemy in Northern Africa and ultimately in Europe.  Liberia was also a major contributor of rubber for the war effort as the home of the world’s largest rubber plantation: Firestone.  During this time frame, the US Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, who was also a friend of Liberian president William Tubman , came up with an idea to bring revenue into Liberia.  As an astute businessman (past president of Diamond Match Company) he helped create the ‘Liberia Company’ in 1947 which in turn brought funds to Liberia and US financiers by registering ships under the Liberian flag. 

So perhaps the next time you take a cruise or see a ship in port flying a flag that looks an awful lot like ours but with only one star --- you’ll know a little of the inside scoop.  


  1. Heath,

    Enjoy a free Kindle eBook of Love of Liberty: The Liberian Flag Story and Quilt Pattern. Limited time: May 18-20, 2012. Enjoy!

  2. Very informative article, thanks!