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 than emigration.

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 new nation.

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...

© Robert W. Kranz