Skip to main content

Joseph Jenkins Roberts, half-length portrait, full face    Roberts arrived in Liberia in 1829 from Virginia. In 1839 Roberts was appointed Vice Colonial Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia and took over as Governor of the Commonwealth, in 1841, when Thomas Buchanan died. Served as the first and seventh president of Liberia.
Joseph Jenkins Roberts
Roberts arrived in Liberia in 1829 from Virginia.
Served as the first and seventh president of Liberia.
The roots of most of our exploration of black history are deeply embedded in the enslavement of Africans brought to the New World via the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Growing up, much of what I learned from oral histories passed down in the family about my own enslaved ancestors, and in school during what was then "Negro History Week" about the enslavement of Africans in the New World, was focused on slavery in the United States, and painted as a one-way street.

It wasn't until one of my uncles mentioned a possible link between my Virginia Roberts family (my maternal grandfather's line) to the Liberia colonization, that I began to look at U.S. efforts to resolve what was described as "the Negro Problem."

While schoolbooks taught me to revere Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator," and my grandparents clung to the Republican Party since it was "the party of Lincoln," as I dug deeper into history I found more evidence of forced migration to Liberia as one of the only options for those who desired emancipation, during a time when the Black Codes were tightened, in order to limit the growth of the free black population. I was moved when I read the letters between Mars Lucas in Liberia and Townsend Heaton, his former owner in Loudoun County Virginia. Lucas writes, "...I. may state to you. that I. am much deceiv'd, with, this Country the reports, is all a lie, mearly to Encourage people. to come to this Country..."

book cover , Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page,  University of Missouri; 1st Edition edition (February 14, 2011)
Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln
 and the Movement for Black Resettlement
For an examination of Lincoln's racial attitudes I suggest you read Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream by Lerone Bennett, Jr.—noted historian and author of "Before the Mayflower"—which sparked a furor when published in February of 2000. For more on Lincoln's support of colonization, long after his supporters claim he had abandoned the idea, I suggest Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, which:
explores the previously unknown truth about Lincoln’s attitude toward colonization. Scholars Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page combed through extensive archival materials, finding evidence, particularly within British Colonial and Foreign Office documents, which exposes what history has neglected to reveal—that Lincoln continued to pursue colonization for close to a year after emancipation. Their research even shows that Lincoln may have been attempting to revive this policy at the time of his assassination.
It wasn't until around 10 years ago that I learned of an historical tie between Frederick Douglass and the Dominican Republic area of Samaná. It was also a few years ago that I learned about the "two-way trafffic in trade" between freed slaves in Brazil and those who returned to the West Coast of Africa, who are called "Agudas."

To learn what I found, follow me below the fold.

Illustration in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, January 28, 1871. Original caption read:
1871 address by Frederick Douglass to the freed U.S. black colonizers from the United States,
in the city plaza of Samaná, in Santo Domingo
The whole issue of colonization and emigration of blacks—free and some still enslaved— was not only one taken up by whites, like Lincoln. Groups of free blacks actively pushed for colonization efforts.

One of the best resources available online, is the Schomberg Center's interactive website, In Motion: The African American Migration Experience.

The migration of African Americans to other lands in search of freedom during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was an expression of their belief that they would never achieve a position of true equality in the United States. The only solution to this problem, they felt, was to establish separate, self-governing societies or nations. Though migrants found their way to Canada, Haiti, the West Indies, and Mexico, Africa was, most often, the refuge of choice. Emigration and colonization were controversial within the African-American community, and some of the consequences of these migrations were negative for the receiving populations.
Of particular interest to me were the efforts of a group in Philadelphia to send freed blacks to Haiti and Santo Domingo.
In 1824, the New York Colonization Society received a commitment from Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer to pay the passage of U.S. emigrants. Boyer also promised to support them for their first four months and to grant them land. The same year, African-American leaders, including wealthy Philadelphia businessman James Forten and Bishop Richard Allen, formed the Haytian Emigration Society of Coloured People. They arranged for the transportation of several hundred people, not only to Haiti but also to Santo Domingo, the Spanish-speaking western part of the island of Hispaniola that had been conquered by Haiti in 1822.
A number of years ago, I was teaching an anthropology course on Cultures of the Caribbean. About a third of the students in my class were of Caribbean ancestry. One day, during a discussion of skin-colorism, and the divisions between Dominicans and Haitians, a student who had formerly been very quiet raised her hand. She stood up in class and announced she was "black," and Dominican. Everyone in class (including me) went into shock. She was very white, northern European looking, with a Dutch surname, and up until that moment none of us had the slightest hint that she was Latina/Dominicana, and certainly no idea she defined herself as black.

She then told her story. She was a direct descendent of free American blacks who had been sent, by the Philadelphia Emigration Society, to a place in what is now the Dominican Republic called Samaná. She explained her phenotype by bringing into class photos of her ancestors. The women in the family had out-married with merchant seamen from Europe, and in the space of only a few generations her direct family went from very dark skin color to whiteness. Eventually her family migrated to the U.S. She admitted that her sisters (in NYC) did not want their black ancestry mentioned, and hid it. She, however, not only embraced her heritage, but left school to go to Samaná to do research and meet up with her relatives there, who are black Dominicans in complexion and culture.  

It was through interest in her story of Samaná that I discovered the visit of Frederick Douglass to Samaná, in 1871 (portrayed above). This visit is described in "Freed US Slave Immigrants of 1824 to Samana, Dominican Republic," by Dr. Dana F. Minaya.


In 1824, freed slaves emigrated from the United States to Samana, Dominican Republic. Within 47 years of the arrival of the freed slave emigrants from the United States to Samana, an extensive study was made by an 1871 United States Government Commission with interest in annexing the Dominican Republic and, particularly, Samana Bay. This video uses findings from the commission report and the reports by distinguished journalists, illustrators and scientists accompanying the study's voyage. It describes African-American emigrant history, the ensuing life of these emigrants and their reaction to the proposal of annexation to the United States.
Over a decade after his return Douglass gave his Lecture on Haiti.


Historian Martha Willmore, Samana resident, describes the lives of the 1824 freed slave emigrants to Samana in the Dominican Republic. Interview by Dr. Dana Minaya of the Samana College Research Center.
Currently making the rounds of classrooms and community organizations in the U.S., especially in areas with large Dominican-American popuations is a 30 minute documentary.
"African American Settlement in the Dominican Republic" is an original documentary in English (with subtitles in Spanish) about the story of six-thousand freed U.S. slaves who settled in Hispaniola and Samana in 1824-1825, time when the United States attempted to return all blacks to Africa.

Produced and directed by Nestor Montilla, Sr., the documentary depicts the saga of thousands of free African-Americans who fled the United States in the first quarter of the 1800s in search for freedom and equal rights in Hispaniola, an Caribbean island shared today by the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The settlers had to show proof of their freedom in the US before boarding ships headed to Hispaniola.

"I am of the fourth generation of the African-Americans who settled in Samana in 1824," said Martha Willmore, a Dominican of African-American descent featured in the documentary. "They arrived in Samana in small groups with their families and belongings."

"Almost two centuries have passed," said Franklin Willmore, an African American descendant and member of the African Methodist Church. "We consider ourselves Dominicans."

The documentary highlights that, currently, over 80 percent of Samana's population is of African American descent. It is estimated that there are over one half million Dominicans who are descendants of the African-American settlers.

At present, there are still over 33 African American surnames in use in the Dominican Republic.

The list includes Vanderherst, Miller, King, Jones, Green, Anderson, Willmore, Johnson, James, Hamilton, Hilton, Jackson, Carey, Redman, Shephard, Kelly, Barret, Coats, Buck, Paul, Dishmey, Simmons, Henderson, Handsburry, Mitchell, Smith, Rodney, Berry Banks, Sidny, Wright, Fershue and Copeland.

"Dominicans are African-Americans too," said Nestor Montilla, Sr. President of the Common Roots Project. "Historically, African-American settlers and their descendants have greatly contributed to the socio-economic and political development of the Dominican Republic. Beyond skin color, Dominicans and African-Americans have more historical and sociological traits in common than traits that differentiate them."

"A noticeable contribution ignored by historians is that African-Americans fought for the independence of the Dominican Republic too during the Restoration War agains Spain. Little known heroes such as Jose Wright, an African American who was promoted to Captain on July 3, 1863, joined one of the Dominican Founding Fathers, General Gregorio Luperon, to fight against Spain's attempt to dominate the country between 1861 and 1865, a period known as the War of Restoration," explains Montilla.

Shifting locations from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, to Brazil, I was never taught in school that freed slaves from Brazil returned to Africa, establishing flourishing communities in several West African nations, including trade back and forth with black Brazilians. Sadly, some initially took up slave trading themselves, but that ended with the abolition of slavery.

When I journeyed to Brazil to spend time with my friend and fellow anthropologist Maria Pimpa-Junqueira, to explore ties, similarities and differences between the Afro-Brazilian religious practice of Candomblé with Afro-Cuban Lucumi (Santeria), one of the differences I noticed almost immediately was that Candomblé practitioners used the Yoruba language in ritual with a far better understanding of meaning than Afro-Cubans.  They also used kola nuts from Africa in various ritual practices, where for the most part Cubans had substituted cocoanut. Mae Maria remarked that this had much to do with the fact that contact with Africa was never lost, and that a lot of the later trade that was established between continents served to supply the very large African diasporic religious community in Brazil.  

Book cover Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé by J. Lorand Matory
Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism,
 and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé
J. Lorand Matory
Some Afro-Brazilians even sent their children back to Africa to be trained in ritual. This "two-way street" has been explored in depth by J. Lorand Matory, Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Director of the Center for African and African American Research at Duke University, in his book Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé.  
Black Atlantic Religion illuminates the mutual transformation of African and African-American cultures, highlighting the example of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. This book contests both the recent conviction that transnationalism is new and the long-held supposition that African culture endures in the Americas only among the poorest and most isolated of black populations. In fact, African culture in the Americas has most flourished among the urban and the prosperous, who, through travel, commerce, and literacy, were well exposed to other cultures. Their embrace of African religion is less a "survival," or inert residue of the African past, than a strategic choice in their circum-Atlantic, multicultural world.

With counterparts in Nigeria, the Benin Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad, and the United States, Candomblé is a religion of spirit possession, dance, healing, and blood sacrifice. Most surprising to those who imagine Candomblé and other such religions as the products of anonymous folk memory is the fact that some of this religion's towering leaders and priests have been either well-traveled writers or merchants, whose stake in African-inspired religion was as much commercial as spiritual. Morever, they influenced Africa as much as Brazil. Thus, for centuries, Candomblé and its counterparts have stood at the crux of enormous transnational forces.

I found references in Matory's work to correspondence between black intellectuals in Lagos, in Brazil and the United States to be fascinating. His research, building on earlier work by Pierre Verger, has been aided by the fact that Washington, D.C, native Matory is fluent in Portuguese, and Yoruba.

In recent years, with the rise of the black consciousness movement in Brazil, Brazilians have been exploring more of their historical linkages with Africa. For example, "Cartas D'Africa" by Carlos da Fonseca - Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (Brazil): Art exhibit. A display of 35 paintings on the "returnees" to Brazil in the 19th century is documented here, with some of the photos from the exhibit (story in Portuguese)
 

Sylvanus Olympio, President of Togo
Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio
First President of Togo
Grandson of Afro-Brazilian
trader Francisco Olympio Sylvio[
There is no one location which lists all the New World slave descendents in Africa who became leading political, cultural, academic or social figures. We do know the history of figures like Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio.
(6 September 1902 – 13 January 1963) was a Togolese political figure who served as Prime Minister, and then President, of Togo from 1958 until his assassination in 1963. He came from the important Olympio family, which included his uncle Octaviano Olympio, one of the richest people in Togo in the early 1900s. After graduating from the London School of Economics, he worked for Unilever and became the general manager of the African operations of that company. After World War II, Olympio became prominent in efforts for independence of Togo and his party won the 1958 election making him the Prime Minister of the country. His power was further cemented when Togo achieved independence and he won the 1961 election making him the first President of Togo.
Rarely do we think of West Africans as descendents of those who wound up enslaved in the New World, but those connections exist.
Saros or Creoles in Nigeria during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century were freed slaves who migrated to Nigeria in the beginning of the 1830s. They were known locally as Saros (elided form of Sierra Leone) or Amaros: migrants from Brazil and Cuba. Saros and Amaros also settled in other West African countries such as the Gold Coast (Ghana). They were mostly freed and repatriated slaves from various West African and Latin American countries such as Sierra Leone, Brazil and Cuba Liberated "returnee" Africans from Brazil were more commonly known as "Agudas". Most of the Latin American returnees or Amaros started migrating to Africa after slavery was abolished on the continent while others from West Africa, or the Saros were recaptured and freed slaves already resident in Sierra Leone. Many of the returnees chose to return to Nigeria for cultural, missionary and economic reasons. Many (if not the greater majority) of them were originally descended from the Igbos and Yorubas, and so because of this, they were mostly regarded as a part of the ethnic groups of Southern Nigeria in the Nigeria of the era.
Photos and descriptions of  Afro-Brazilians from Ghana/Togo/Benin/Nigeria can be found on the Anthrocivitias website.

Whether colonization and emigration was by force or by choice, there is no denying the historical linkages between the New World in the Americas and the old world of Africa.
Though for untold millions slavery ended in death in chains, there were those who found their way either to Africa or to new opportunities for freedom in places like the Dominican Republic.  

It is important that we share those stories.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 03:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Black Kos community, Barriers and Bridges, LatinoKos, and History for Kossacks.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site