Churches and Liberians Celebrate Liberian U.S. Historical Roots at Center Church
On Saturday, February 16th at 2:00 p.m., the Center Church on the New Haven Green is scheduled to be the forum to celebrate the role of the Abolitionist Movement and the church in establishing Liberia as a haven for freed U.S. slaves and Liberia College (1862). Leonard Bacon, a Yale College graduate, and Center Church Pastor, 1825-1866, whose writing on slavery influenced Abraham Lincoln, was a advocate for the settlement of freed U.S. slaves in Liberia.
On Saturday, February 16th at 2:00 p.m., the Center Church on the New Haven Green is scheduled to be the forum to celebrate the role of the Abolitionist Movement and the church in establishing Liberia as a haven for freed U.S. slaves and Liberia College (1862). Leonard Bacon, a Yale College graduate, and Center Church Pastor, 1825-1866, whose writing on slavery influenced Abraham Lincoln, was a advocate for the settlement of freed U.S. slaves in Liberia. Local pastors, lay persons and Liberians from the region will be joining the Liberian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, His Excellency Milton Nathaniel Barnes, and Tidi Stewart, Acting President of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, at the Center church. Weather permitting, the celebration will begin with a walk at 2:00 p.m. from the Center Church to Ashmun Street by way of Grove Street Cemetery and back to the Church for a 3:00 p.m. worship. For many Liberians, Liberian elementary school history will take on a life of its own – seeing where Jehudi Ashmun – the first Colonial Agent of the American Society and in whose honor a major street in Monrovia, Liberia is named – was laid to rest.
According to J. Siafa Johnson, a native of Liberia and former Minister of the Black Church at Yale and the International Church at Yale, a member of the Potomac Association Higher Education Committee, UCC, “The current democratic primaries have raised a lot of excitement about the prospects of the first African-American President of the United States. Noteworthy is the fact that ten African-Americans had already served as Presidents of Liberia. Admist numerous internal cultural conflicts, they and their successors influenced the decolonization of the African after World War II and on the international relations scene, transformed Liberia into a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), 1963. Most importantly, the event has another significance. The U.S. born children of Liberian immigrants and refugees in the United States can now concurrently celebrate a dual and diverse historical heritage: African-American, referred to in Liberian history as “Americo-Liberian”, and their indigenous African historical and cultural heritage”.
Although Liberia College was supported over a century by a fund established by the Massachusetts Colonization Society, a society co-founded by Rev. Bacon, no chaplaincy had been established since 1862. The worship is bringing together, for the first time, Liberian and U.S. Ministers and students from a number of colleges and universities interested in the re-establishment of a chaplaincy and congregation at the University of Liberia to address the emerging need of guidance within a post civil war reconstruction context. The congregation and chaplaincy authorized by the University and established in 1998 closed due to the insurgency and subsequent Muslim-Christian conflicts in the nation’s capital, Monrovia.
A chaplaincy offering an alternative social reform paradigm after the non-violent movement led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King could have changed the course of Liberian
history. In 1979, without a spectrum of social alternatives, Professors and a number of students at the University of Liberia, under the auspices of Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA) and a new political organization, initiated a social reform movement capitalizing upon the ruling one party state system, the historic cultural and perceived economic divide between the descendents of African-Americans and indigenous Liberians. The attempted reform led to the “Rice Riot”. Essentially, the reform failed to achieve its goals and eventually set the stage for a violent coup d’etat, a Military Government and a 13 year civil war.
The African-American Churches, led by Rev. Dr. Sulton Stack, Jr., Rev. Dr. W. Vance Cotton and Rev. David Miller, once supported the International Church at the University of Liberia organized under the leadership of J. Siafa Johnson. With stability returned to Liberia, the Center Church, where it all began about 150 years ago, is again the place to begin with worship and to plan for a multicultural congregation at the University of Liberia where historical and ethnic diversity, social justice and dialogue will be celebrated within the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Celby Hardley, a student from Taylor University and Diana Metobo, a student from Dartmouth College, plan to participate in the worship and explore how they could contribute to making such a college ministry in Liberia a reality this summer.