The roots of the colonization movement date back to various plans first proposed in the
eighteenth century. From the start, colonization of free blacks in Africa was an issue on
which both whites and blacks were divided. Some blacks supported emigration because they
thought that black Americans would never receive justice in the United States. Others
believed African-Americans should remain in the United States to fight against slavery and
for full legal rights as American citizens. Some whites saw colonization as a way of
ridding the nation of blacks, while others believed black Americans would be happier in
Africa, where they could live free of racial discrimination. Still others believed black
American colonists could play a central role in Christianizing and civilizing Africa.
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans
to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. In 1822, the society
established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation
of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants.
Beginning in the 1830s, the society was harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to
discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. And, after the Civil War, when many
blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonization had waned. During its
later years the society focussed on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather
In 1913 and at its dissolution in 1964, the society donated its records to the Library of
Congress. The material contains a wealth of information about the foundation of the
society, its role in establishing Liberia, efforts to manage and defend the colony,
fundraising, recruitment of settlers, and the way in which black settlers built and led the
Moreover, opportunities exist for additional research on the collection. For example, map
study could reveal new data about settlement patterns, land ownership, and community
development in Liberia. Work on the photographs could lead to identification of more of the
individuals, locations, and events depicted. From passenger lists and land grants,
researchers could glean new knowledge about Liberian genealogy. And, although the early
history of the society has been well presented in publications, the post- Civil War period
has not been thoroughly examined.
To be continued...