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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home

New Americans

Immigrants from other areas of the world

The Liberian people

Cultural Profile of their country of origin- Liberia

Liberia is a nation of almost 4.2 million people located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. Its name means "land of the free", and it is considered the most American of African countries in terms of its political institutions. Liberia's official language is English, and it is spoken by approximately 20 to 30 percent of Liberians. Some different 20 indigenous languages are also spoken in Liberia.

The first republic in Africa, founded in 1822 by former enslaved people from the U.S. and the Caribbean. The first 86 of them left the country in a ship named Elizabeth, that it's called "the Mayflower of Liberia", from New York, looking to settle in a British Colony in West Africa, notorious for welcoming black immigrants, both free and fugitive. Their descendants were called Americo-Liberians originally but this term is outdated, and they are now referred to as Congo, or Congau people in Liberian English, and are an ethnic group comprised of African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Liberated African descendants. Because of this history, it has had very close relations with the U.S throughout.

The Congo make-up around 5 percent of Liberia’s population. The other indigenous ethnic groups in the country also include the Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, and Bella. In addition to indigenous Liberian chiefs and royal families, upper-class Congo and their descendants led the political, social, cultural, and economic sectors of the country. Together with the indigenous Liberian elite, upper-class Congo ruled the new nation from 19th century until 1980 as a small but dominant minority.

The Liberian constitution, their structure of government, and their flag resemble those of the United States. The former residences of the original Americo-Liberian families were built in the style of antebellum plantation homes, possibly because they may have admired the ones in the American South. Their language continued to carry elements of African American Vernacular English. Liberians easily integrate into African-American communities. Liberian immigrants to the United States have the highest passport acceptance rates, and the longest extension rates of any citizen of other African nations.

Although many of the upper-class Americo-Liberians, Congo, left the country or were killed during the civil wars and their houses and monuments crumbled, ordinary Liberians still look to the United States for aid.

History of their immigration

The first people that were brought to the United States from the regions that currently make what we know as Liberia were enslaved individuals, imported here between the 17th and 19th centuries. That's why many of these Americo-Liberians can trace backgrounds to groups such as the Kpelle, Kru, Gola, and, perhaps, the Gio, Grebo, Bassa, Vai and Mandingo. Many of their ancestors were enslaved by plantation owners in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. Some of the children of these enslaved individuals later gained some notability in the United States, as was the case of abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer Martin Delany (1812 – 1885), one of the first proponents of American black nationalism and the first African-American field officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War.

With the abolition of slavery in the United States in the 1860s, many of the enslaved returned to Africa, settling in West Africa and founding Liberia, where they ended up inhabiting regions already populated by other ethnic groups. Their migration to the United States did not start again until the first half of the 20th century, when the first Liberians came to the United States. However, only several hundreds of people immigrated to the United States at that time, a very small number compared with the people who emigrated from Europe, Asia and Latin America. Most who did were students.

In the 1950s and 1960s only a few hundred Liberian migrated to the United States (232 and 569 respectively). It was not until the 1970s when there was a considerable increase in the immigration from Liberia, which amounted to 2081 people. This low immigration rate was due to the fact that Liberia at the time was one of the most stable democracies and prosperous economies in Africa, up until the military coup that happened in 1980.

Liberia experienced political instability at numerous times during the 1980s. Civil war erupted in 1990, and throughout much of the decade warring factions disrupted normal civilian life, forcing tens of thousands from their homes and into neighboring countries as refugees. The first wave of Liberians to the United States in modern times was after this first civil war, and later after the second civil war in the early 2000s.

There are an estimated 250,000 Liberians living in the U.S. Many of them came to the U.S. because of the war. Some came as students but were unable to return to their homeland. Since the war times, they've settled in the United States in Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania, and in places such as London in the United Kingdom.

Liberia was still rebuilding after 14 years of civil war and upheaval when the Ebola virus struck the nation in 2014 and 2015. The virus killed over 4,800 people.

A count done by the community in 2017 found that more than 4,700 Liberians live in the Fargo/Moorhead area, which had 16 Liberian-owned businesses then. Many Liberians moved to this area to be closer to family and to find job security and educational opportunities.

Stay tuned for more information on the Liberians and their culture, and more places and their people in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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