Celebrating the Bicentennial of Liberia’s Liberation: ACANA & GPA Partner for a Panel Discussion During World Heritage Week

By Andrew Beers

At Lincoln University, historians and scholars gathered to discuss the history of Liberia and its connection with Philadelphia. A panel discussion was scheduled to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Liberia’s liberation. Panelists included Prof. Molefi Asante, Professor and Chair of the Department of Africology and African American Studies at Temple University, Edith Gongloe-Weh, social and political justice advocate, Dr. Dafina Diabate, Director of the Office of International Programs at Lincoln University, and Frederick Sam Gibson, President of the U.S.-Liberia Chamber of Commerce. The African Cultural Alliance of North America and Global Philadelphia Association partnered together to hold the event on Africa Day, which is celebrated on May 25. This live virtual event was a part of GPA’s World Heritage Week series of events.

Rev. Charles L. Martin hosted the event and opened with renditions of both the American and Liberian national anthems. After some opening remarks, the panelists were introduced and began their discourse on the history, culture and what the future of the relationship between Philadelphia and Liberia might look like. Asante began the conversation by highlighting key topics between the two societies that exemplified his proposed belief on the history of Liberia. He suggested that when looking at the history, it is necessary to understand the multiplicity of issues that stemmed from Black Americans settling in West Africa. The topics that he mentioned, and other panelists touched on, were economics, religion, social relationships, education and the military. 

“We don’t talk about any of those too deeply, but we have to,” said Asante. 

Gongloe-Weh continued the engaging conversation by speaking on the lack of leadership in Liberia. As a former superintendent of Nimba county in Liberia, Gongloe-Weh has been advocating for the best interest of Liberian citizens in places the government neglects. “Our country has been so disadvantaged to be led successfully by leaders who […] wanted to fill their pockets,” said Gongloe-Weh when describing the political landscape of Liberia over the past 200 years. She speaks about the distrust between citizens and public officials in Liberia and wonders how the past ambitions of the young nation can be rekindled. She thoughtfully noted that the foundations laid for Liberia in the past may have led to current issues and deconstruction in society is needed to correct these issues.

After Gongloe-Weh spoke, Diabate segued the conversation towards the importance of education and the significance of Lincoln University. She recounted the historical book “Education for Freedom” written by Horace Mann Bond, the first African American president at Lincoln, which detailed the establishment of the institution and the overall impact education had on Liberia. She recounted how historical alumnus James Amos, a freedman, studied at Lincoln in the 1800s to provide better leadership in Liberia after graduation. Diabate was focused on how Lincoln strengthened the bond between Philadelphia and Liberia through a proper education that inevitably developed and maintained the society for Liberians.

“[Education] brought on the divide,” added Gibson. Although Diabate spoke about the effectiveness of an education from Lincoln, Gibson clarified the impact education had on the economics in Liberia. Gibson believes the mentality of American education throughout history has been to limit education for lower class citizens in order to rule over them. “[Liberians] who came here to the United States and gained [America’s] education came back with the same mentality,” said Gibson. He noted that poverty continues to persist in several areas throughout Liberia and essential resources are constantly neglected.

Liberia has faced ongoing, difficult issues throughout its history, and while panelists and audience members could not provide a solution to the many issues embedded in the foundation of Liberia, Asante suggests that the continuation of dialogue is paramount in cultivating a better future. The discussion wrapped up with questions from the audience, in which several members proceeded to narrate their experiences visiting or living in Liberia. Each question posed provided deep empathy for Liberia and added insight on what the future between Philadelphia and Liberia may have in store. After 200 years, their history and relationship continue to thrive through the intellectual discourse and storytelling from these educated discussions.

To view photos from the event, check out GPA's Flickr

To watch a recap of the event, click here