Liberia’s Ghost of April 22nd: 40 Years Later, Family of Slain Tolbert Govt. Officials Trumpet Hope, Harmony
Monrovia – The month of April remains perennially entrenched in Liberia’s history. This year marks 40 years since thirteen members of late President William R. Tolbert were slain on the pole in South Beach.
It was April 22, 1980, ten days after Master Sargeant Samuel Kanyon Doe and a band of military officers surprised the world with a military coup d’etat, that ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule under the guise of ridding Africa’s oldest republic of corruption, greed, nepotism and bad governance.
Ironically, the killings’ aftermath has failed to solve much of Liberia’s problems. Nevertheless, the families of those who lost their lives continue to honor their memory with an annual memorial archiving one of the painful chapters of Liberia’s rugged history.
The memorial which started in 2005 under the banner of the April 22nd Memorial Group (A22MG), envisions an all-embracing Liberia where Liberians can respectfully and genuinely work together hand in hand, in harmony.
In a statement remembering the 40-year anniversary, the families said:
“The horrific and savage image of those 13 men tied to stakes was indelibly etched in the minds of not only Liberians but globally, marking a tremendous downturn in the blood-stained history and demised economy of our beloved nation as we once knew her. We remember these men today, their patriotism, distinctive minds and contribution to country.”The April 22nd Group
“We envision a Liberia where the last 40 years have served as a lesson to us all in how difficult it is to rebuild: homes, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, farms, businesses, but above all, trust in each other, synergistic alliances and friendships that lead to progress and prosperity. After 40 years, the A22MG is still imbued with undying optimism, anticipation and expectation of an emergent Liberia. “With all our hearts united in union strong; by God’s command, let mighty always be her power”. By God’s grace, let us ALL Arise and Shine!”
The families statement recalls how on this day 40 years ago, April 22nd, 1980, thirteen officials of the Liberian Government were killed on South Beach in Monrovia, Liberia, as a result of a military coup d’etat that toppled the government of President William R. Tolbert, Jr., on April 12th, 1980. “The horrific and savage image of those 13 men tied to stakes was indelibly etched in the minds of not only Liberians but globally, marking a tremendous downturn in the blood-stained history and demised economy of our beloved nation as we once knew her. We remember these men today, their patriotism, distinctive minds and contribution to country.”
But before the killings on April 22nd, Tolbert and some of his key aides lost their lives at the Executive Mansion on April 12th, 1980, the day of the coup.
Besides Tolbert, his top security officers Captain Gabriel Moore, General Charles E. Railey, Jr. and Lieutenant “Railroad” Vesseley along with.a few others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the coup took place.
Ten days later, on April 22nd, 13 of Tolbert’s Cabinet members were executed on South Beach. They include: Dr. Cyril A. Bright, Joseph J. F. Chesson, Sr, C. Cecil Dennis, Jr., Richard A. Henries, Sr., Charles D. B. King, D. Franklin Neal, Sr., P. Clarence Parker, III, James T. Phillips, Jr., James A. A. Pierre, John W. F. Sherman, Frank J. Stewart, Sr., Frank E. Tolbert, Sr and E. Reginald Townsend.
Commander Spurgeon Capehart, General Emmett Walter Cooper, Commander Varney E. Dempster, H. Carey Thomas and A. Benedict Tolbert all lost their lives in the aftermath of the April 12, 1980 coup.
Recalling Tolbert’s Accomplishments
For the families they left behind, remembering the lost lives is key to ensuring that the current generation are repeatedly reminded of the tragedy of 40 years ago. “Liberia remains is a young nation and many of us simply do not know what the contribution of these notable men was to our country.”
But even in memorializing the dead, the families are keen to recollect some of the many contributions and accomplishments of the William R. Tolbert, Jr. Administration which lasted from July of 1971 to April of 1980.
Among the accomplishments, the Tolbert government instituted free public elementary and high school education and subsidized up to fifty percent tuition, books and board for all College and University students throughout the country; Began construction of a new campus for the University of Liberia moving it from Monrovia to Fendell so as to allow a greater number of students from all strata of society to enter university; Enacted legislation, policies, and strategies, to execute the war on illiteracy, poverty, and disease undermining Liberia’s nascent democracy and invested over one million dollars in 1972 in a wholly government-owned mechanized Agricultural Company (AGRIMECO), to spearhead land clearance and development of vast areas to cope with the proliferation of agricultural co-operatives.
The administration also established three public corporations (LPMC, LPPC and LCCC) to maximize the production of oil palm, coconuts, cocoa, and coffee, established essential national and continental development finance Institutions such as the National Housing Bank, the Agricultural Bank and Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), in order to stimulate capital flow into the Agricultural, Housing and priority development sectors and co-facilitated formation of the African Development Bank (ADB) for continental financial growth and management.
Additionally, the Tolbert administration expanded health facilities to include free medical care to prenatal mothers and infants up to two years, constructed thousands of low cost housing units in Gardnersville(Stephen Tolbert Estates), Barnersville Estate, Matadi and New Matadi Estates, Cabral Estates in Sinkor, and the New Georgia Estate, established the Ministry of Action for Development for implementation of Government’s policies related to self-reliance, decentralization and self-sufficiency in agriculture and lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
The Tolbert administration also enacted the Revenue and Finance Law of 1977 to abolish the regressive ‘austerity’ tax and to make the income tax structure more progressive, strengthened regional integration, interdependence, and cooperation with improvement of ties with MRU and ECOWAS countries, constructed infrastructure consisting of highways, secondary and farm-to-market roads, bridges, urban and rural markets, clinics and hospitals, schools, the Hotel Africa complex, RIA terminal, and the Gabriel Johnson Tucker Bridge and increased revenue and receipts from $77.5 million in 1972 to $185.5 million in 1978, an average annual growth rate of over 15 percent.
In the years that followed the demise of the Tolbert government, Liberia has never been the same. Doe, who succeeded Tolbert ruled for nearly a decade with an iron-fisted style of governance marred by corruption, greed and gross violation of human rights.
Successive periods of transitional governments resulted in the election of Charles Taylor, whose rebel invasion on the eve of Christmas in 1989 ended started the pressure that eventually led to the removal of Doe from power.
For Liberia, now in its 173rd year, recurring refrains of familiarity to the ills of yesteryears appear unrepentant to the realities that continue to defy convention even at its own detriment, often reincarnated in variations depending on who’s turn it is at the helm.
For today’s generation, yesterday’s story is as new and as rich as it ever was, despite the changing signs of the times and the stubbornness of a people, perennially lingering in a recurring state of uncertainty.
For the families, the ghost of April 12, 1980 and its aftermath is all the more reason to remain hopeful
for the generation of today and the fallen members of the Tolbert government. “We will remember them, Hope, Harmony, Progress – One Liberia, One People!”