UL, Partners Hold Major Historical Confab -On Afterlives of Slavery – October 17-19, 2022

MONROVIA – The University of Liberia and partners, the  Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC will hold a major historical international conference to discuss the transatlantic slave trade that resulted in the forced relocation and enslavement of approximately 10.7 million Africans in the “New World,”  under the theme, “Colonization, Christianity and Commerce: The Afterlives of Slavery in the Transatlantic World” slated to for October 17-19, 2022 at the EJS Ministerial Complex, Congo Town, Monrovia.

According to Dr. William E. Allen, Chairperson of the Planning Committee of the October 17 to 19 2022 Afterlives of Slavery Conference, University of Liberia the gathering which is the first of its kind in Liberia is part of the Bicentennial events currently taking place throughout this year in the country and will focus on the root of the return of African-Americans in 1822 which is a key historical link to the foundation of Liberia and will also place keen attention on “where they come from, why they came here and what they did here”.

    The former Vice President for Academic Affairs of the nation’s premier public higher institution who spoke to The Analyst in an exclusive interview said that renowned and acclaimed international scholars drawn from the Diaspora, the West African region and Liberia are expected to deliver papers on various topics and expected to generate new ideas and discoveries of facts surrounding the infamous Atlantic Slave trade, the impact of the forceful migration and debasement of a large population from Africa, the struggles of the Africans in the diaspora for freedom, their return as well as the trade in commodities between Africa and the outside world before and during the slave trade.

Further information gathered from the official website of the conference has it that some of the speakers expected to deliver scholarly papers are Dr. William Allen, Executive Director of the Center of Migration Studies, UL and former Vice President for Academic Affairs, UL who is expected to speak on the topic, “Adopting “Merica People” Ways: Re-examining Liberia’s Assimilation Policy”, which will re-examine an aspect of Liberia’s 19th century assimilation policy that is rarely considered and looked at how When the Black American emigrants founded the Republic of Liberia in 1847, they failed to recognize indigenes as citizens.  They instead imposed the policy of assimilation as a prerequisite for citizenship, which required that indigenes adopt the culture of the “Merica people,” a local name for the newcomers. Conversion included becoming Christian and “knowing books.”

Another speaker, Olutayo C. Adesina, PhD , Professor of History, Department of History, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria will speak on the topic “ Afterlives of Slavery: The Contours of Return, Seasons of Labour, and Social Reproduction”, where he is expected to discuss the major shared preoccupation of many of the freed African slaves and perhaps, those of their former owners in the nineteenth century was the phenomenon of return to the land of their ancestors. This represented a significant episode in black cultural memory and the Trans-Atlantic enterprise that facilitated the meeting points of enslaved Africans and their former homeland.

One of the speakers from the Diaspora, Janice McLean-Farrell, PhD,  Dirk Romeyn Assistant Professor of Metro-Urban Ministry & Assistant Dean of Doctoral Studies, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, will speak on the topic “Doomed from the beginning? An examination of 19th Century Afro-Jamaican Missionaries in Africa, and will discuss how some much needed attention has been given to experiences of formerly enslaved Africans who returned to Africa beginning in the late eighteenth century, stressing in the presentation, the contributions of African Americans, including those who went as missionaries, loom large, with very little attention given to the other former slaves who were also involved in the return to Africa and will seek to interrogate the stories of these other former slaves, specifically the Afro-Jamaican missionaries to Africa in the 19th century.

Another speaker from the Diaspora,  David D. Daniels III, PhD,  Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity, McCormick Theological Seminary will take the podium on the topic, “An African Half of the Story: African Christianity, the Black Atlantic, and the Egalitarian Tradition(1600-1847) and the  lecture will explore the African half of the story where African Christians construct Black Atlantic informed by an egalitarian tradition that was crafted by African Christianity.

“The 400-years legacy of chattel slavery in the trans-Atlantic world, marked by the arrival of Africans in the Americas in the 16th century, and through its official abolition by the late 19th century, has produced reverberations, issues, problems, and consequences, which continue to require critical reflection and action. Former enslaved Africans in the Americas made the return voyage to West Africa from the late eighteenth century. The returnees settled mainly along the West Atlantic littoral, from present-day Freetown, Sierra Leone and Monrovia, Liberia to other parts of West Africa. In some cases, they settled among kinsmen. On the other hand, the returnees did likewise establish homes where they appear to have little kinship to the local people. In either case, however, they had to adjust to an environment that was socially, economically, culturally and geographically different”, an executive summary of the conference said.

Scholars making inputs in some of the historical issues around slavery  have opened debates, enquiring  under what circumstances, for instance, can one refer to them as “returnees,” and what strategies of adjustments did they adopt?

“Nineteenth-century western abolitionists, but also the American Colonization Society, called for the introduction of Christianity and commerce to Africa as a means of ending the notorious transatlantic slave trade. They envisioned the replacement of the commerce in human chattel with the Bible and the Plow, or “legitimate commerce and the blessings of civilization and Christianity” in the words of Thomas Powell Buxton, an early proponent. Essentially, Africans would continue to produce much needed raw materials for industries in the West. But this time the production of cotton and palm oil, for example, would take place in Africa, not in the Americas. In return, Africans were expected to accept the Western way of life, including Christianity, education, trade, together with marriage and familial arrangements. We seek papers that will explore colonization, Christianity, commerce, such as implementation and the local African responses”, one of the sources made available to The Analyst said.

Originally planned for October 2021 but delayed by COVID-19, the Monrovia Conference is an offshoot of an International, Interdisciplinary conference titled “The Trouble I’ve Seen: The Religious Dimensions of Slavery & Its Afterlives,” jointly sponsored by Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ in collaboration with Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Washington, D.C

“The timing of the conference is particularly propitious: it comes in the same year that Liberians are commemorating the bicentennial of the return of the free African Americans to what is now Liberia. They disembarked January 7, 1822 and founded the Republic of Liberia a quarter century later”, part of the executive summary of the conference stated.

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