For much of the 19th century, the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America, later known as the American Colonization Society (ACS), assisted in efforts for former slaves to return to Africa. The ACS’ Quaker and evangelical abolitionist founders established Liberia as a colony for freedmen, which was sparked by the earlier efforts of the wealthy Black ship owner Paul Cuffee (pictured below). On this day with the help of the ACS, 200 free Blacks left Savannah, Ga., in 1895 and returned to their home continent.
Then-President Grover Cleveland named former slave and diplomat William Henry (Harrison) Heard (pictured at top) Minister Resident and Consul General to Liberia a month before the trip. Arriving in Monrovia, Liberia, Heard served as superintendent of the Liberia Annual Conference of the A.M.E. Church and built the first A.M.E. church, Eliza Turner Memorial Chapel, in the city, which stands today.
Liberia was unique in the massive “Back-To-Africa” movement because it was begun as neither a native state nor former European colony.
The ACS, who abhorred slavery, established the country’s roots because Southern states, looking to rid themselves of freed Blacks after the Civil War, wanted Liberia to take on the freedmen, even though many middle class African Americans wanted to establish roots in America.
Either way, while the Quakers and evangelicals fought against slavery, many among them did not want to mix with the newly freed slaves.
Unfortunately, it would take the Americo-Liberians nearly a century to be accepted by other countrymen and tribes on the continent, with many natives seeing the migratory group as invaders.