Identifier

etd-06092010-200522

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

By the mid-nineteenth century, two separate visions of civilization and Christianity existed in Liberia. On the one hand, the settlers – the emigrants sent from the United States to Liberia by the American Colonization Society starting in 1822 – worshiped the external appearance of a Christian mind and “civilized” western body. They revered those citizens who spoke the best American English, lived in the grandest wood-framed houses, and wore the best American clothes. They required total indoctrination of natives into the “religion of the tall hat and frock coat” to maintain a stable, “civilized” American society. On the other hand, the black-led missionaries – the black Americans and frustrated settlers who broke off from the white-led missionary enterprise in the 1840s and 1850s – promoted the idea of a “civilized,” Christian mind. To them, the “religion of the top hat and frock coat” developed an exaggerated sense of “civility” both in Americo-Liberian society and the few native societies it touched. Accordingly, they worked to inject the native population with an understanding of a single benevolent God, solemn prayer, and spiritual immortality through translated scripture, and pidgin sermons. This split in cultural and religious practice gave rise to a new national and racial identity in the Liberian hinterland based on the pan-Negro principles of Edward Blyden, Alexander Crummell, and John Seys, among others. Led by the black missionaries, a new group of pan-Negro preachers rejected the “total indoctrination” practices of the Americo-Liberians, promoting a sense of racial unity and equality lost in Liberian settler society. They transplanted American-based Jacksonian individualism into the African context, allowing natives to experiment with, and learn the teachings of Christianity on their own. At the same time, however, the Americo-Liberian society, which existed strictly in the urban centers of Monrovia, and coastal settler towns, remained steadfastly American. Americo-Liberian leaders placed innate value on skin color, ancestry, and outward appearance, creating a racialistic meritocracy that banned dark-skinned blacks, and native Africans from the highest echelons of settler society. Both societies were Americo-Liberian by nature, separated by the fundamental difference between rhetoric and reality.

Date

2010

Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Burstein, Andrew

Included in

History Commons

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