First Organized Emigration of Freed Slaves to Africa

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In 1820 on this day, a ship departed from New York harbor carrying freed slaves to Freetown, Sierra Leone. This trip was largely organized by the American Colonization Society (ACS) with funding from Congress and was the first organized attempt to repatriate African Americans to Africa. Mainly comprised of Quakers, the ACS’s goals were to return freed slaves to Africa, believing that a full life for blacks in America was not possible with slavery and discriminatory laws in place. The program was modeled after Great Britain’s attempts to resettle freed slaves there, which the British had been doing since soon after the the abolishment of the slave trade in 1772. In addition to the United States and Great Britain, Canada and the West Indies also resettled freed slaves in Sierra Leone. By 1822, the ACS had established a colony just south of Sierra Leone, Liberia. Between 1822 and the start of the Civil War, some 15,000 African Americans emigrated to Liberia from the United States. While the ACS enjoyed the support of President Monroe (who they named Liberia’s capital city Monrovia after), other prominent figures, and some white slave-owners (who feared that freed slaves might revolt); many others, especially abolitionists, found the practice of removing freed slaves to Africa racist. In 1847 Liberia was granted independence by the United States, thus making it the first independent democratic republic in Africa.

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