The Historicity of the Planned January 6th Protest in Liberia – 200 Years Later
Artemus W. Gaye, [email protected], Contributing Writer
History has a way of reminding us of the past in ways beyond our imaginations. As Marcus Garvey so rightly stated, “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Interestingly, as the January 6th 2020 Protest looms, led by the political and social pressure group, The Council of Patriots (COP) against the CDC led government of President George Manneh Weah, one can only look through the lenses of history to examine lessons learned or unlearned.
So what is protest/demonstration/march in the Liberian context? A protest oftentimes used interchangeably with demonstration, is an organized expression, remonstrated or demonstrated collectively or individually through words or actions with regard to particular events, policies on situations unfolding in a given community or the broader society. Thus, it is a method of expressing an objection towards a given event, situation, or policies within a society. These protestations can be manifested either by series of actions or by words. On the other hand, demonstration is more abrasive and extemporaneous with a large group of people, usually gathering for a political cause. It usually includes a group’s march, ending with a rally or a speaker. Yet, both demonstration and protest have the same or similar methods to achieve short, medium, or long-term goals.
Historically and quite remarkably, exactly 200 years ago, on January 31, 1820, during a freezing winter morning in New York, as vendors, mainly enslaved women sold smoked oyster, roasted corn, and baked sweet potatoes from the Manhattan dock to the Jersey Palisades, a group of ninety people of the colored and a crew from the United States, were set to board a ship, the Elizabeth, en route to Sierra Leone and later Liberia. Outside, there were a large group of over two thousands protesters who detested the colonization scheme of sending people of colored to Africa. By February 6, 1820 (a baby froze to death and one passenger abandoned the trip) 88 passengers set sail for Africa, yet again with another protest breaking out due to tension between the White leadership and disgruntled Blacks who did not want to be led by Whites in Africa.
Compounding the problem, the US Government through the ACS, handed $33,000 to Samuel Bacon and Dr. Samuel A. Crozier as expenses for the expedition without any input from Blacks. As the ship began to set sail, a vicious dogfight erupted between two dogs—one owned by of a White sailor and the other by a Black passenger who was told not to take his dog with him—creating a mob-like scene between the Black passengers and the three White sailors. Providentially, as the chaos ceased through the intervention of Rev. Daniel Coker and others, a leakage in the deck of the Elizabeth was discovered and immediately repaired—otherwise, the passengers and crew would have drowned at sea on the onset of forming Liberia. I speculate if such tragedy had happened, the Liberian experiment may have ended just few feet at the New York Harbor.
These unresolved tensions and protests continued as the Elizabeth landed in Freetown, Sierra Leone on March 9, 1820—with the colonial administration sanctioning some of the American Blacks, labeled as troublemakers; Daniel Coker being challenged by the three Baptists: Lott Carey, Colin Teague, and Richard H. Sampson, forcing Coker to quit the Liberian experiment for Sierra Leone; the controversial “pistol treaty” of December 15, 1821, between Captain Robert Stockton and Dr. Eli Ayres of the US Government and King Peter, King George, King Zoda, King Long Peter, their princes, and headsmen, (no Bassa chiefs included); Jehudi Ashmun versus the Council of Twelve (on food ration and land distribution); Governor Thomas Buchanan versus the Gola chief Gaytoombah; Thomas Buchanan versus John Sey of the Methodist Church; J.J. Roberts/the settlers versus the Natives, on disagreement of the continuous slave trade and territorial expansions; EJ Roye versus the Legislators of 1871 on the controversial British loans and presidential tenure; The Liberian Frontier Force and the execution of eight Gbandi Chiefs in 1911; Tubman Versus Coleman, Fahnbulleh, and others; Tolbert versus the remnant of Tubman’s old guys and the Progressives on the 1979 Rice Riot/the nullification of the Monrovia Mayoral elections; Samuel Doe versus members of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and the numerous student protests/demonstrations; The 1990 Civil Wars and beyond; CDC protests against the EJS led regime; and now the June 7th and now the January 6th protest against the GMW led regime.
According to the constitution, it is the affirmative. Further, I believe peaceful protest is a necessary element of democracy and human needs, as documented by Maslow and other philosophers. After Ellen’s dismal performance in her second term to elevate the nation from fragility to stability; and with the GMW’s administration steering the ship for the last two years, aggrieved Liberians beyond all political, social, religious, and ethnic stripes ought not to remain passive, amidst a fragile security environment, as the nation experiences one of its worst malaises—economically, socially, culturally, and politically.
All of these protests or demonstrations have something in common—citizens or a marginalized section of the population feel excluded, ignored, or irate about the excesses and abuse of power—through the various instruments of the state—wherein, there’s an outcry for economic, social, and political justices. For the most part, the demand is about the authority meeting the physiological, security, and safety needs of its people—rightly articulated in Abraham Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs—mainly food, water, air, sleep, and shelter, followed by safety and security—health and wellness, financial security, job, safe community, etc. When these needs are threatened citizens become restless and disconcerted. This is where Liberia found itself during the EJS second term (last two years) and since GMW assumed the mantle of power in 2017. So, the cardinal question: is it fair that just within 24 months of the CDC led administration, should citizens exercising article 17:
All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations.
According to the constitution, it is the affirmative. Further, I believe peaceful protest is a necessary element of democracy and human needs, as documented by Maslow and other philosophers. After Ellen’s dismal performance in her second term to elevate the nation from fragility to stability; and with the GMW’s administration steering the ship for the last two years, aggrieved Liberians beyond all political, social, religious, and ethnic stripes ought not to remain passive, amidst a fragile security environment, as the nation experiences one of its worst malaises—economically, socially, culturally, and politically. Therefore, a peaceful protest rather than war, is the best way for our citizens to vent their frustrations and seek genuine redress—yet, it ought to be done peaceably with full responsibility on the part of the protesters, as guaranteed by the constitution.
As we begin to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the January 31, 1820, the real returns of our African-Americans leaving these American shores to form Liberia—we know our history has not been romanticized—painful struggles, yet, we must never give up on the tenants of democracy—citizens’ rights to protest, and government ability to protect its citizens. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” We remain in solidarity with the people’s right to protest and in support of a government that is transparent and meeting the political and common good of all citizens.
About the author: Artemus W. Gaye, PhD, 2011 alum of Loyola University-Chicago, founded the All Liberian Diaspora Conference ALDC, A Liberian based think-tank, in Chicago, Illinois; former president of The Organization of Liberian Community in Illinois (OLCI), founded in 1951; former adjunct professor at several Illinois colleges former Cultural Consultant of Northwestern University Human Rights Clinic on the Liberian TRC project; president of The Prince Ibrahima & Isabella Freedom Foundation, and author of two books due this spring and summer, Isabella and The African Prince & Rooted Beyond Boundaries to be published by the University of Mississippi Press.