Monday, December 16, 2013

Who was the first African-American president?

REPORTING FROM LIBERIA — When asked who the first African-American president was, most people in the United States would certainly say Barack Obama. In fact, it was Joseph Jenkins Roberts, who was born in 1809 in Norfolk, Virginia, and became the first president of the Republic of Liberia in 1848.

In fact, the first 10 presidents of this West African nation were born in the United States. Liberia was founded in the 1840s by freed African-American slaves and Black Americans who had managed to gain their freedom. Those Black Americans came here to establish a new life for themselves, away from the specter of slavery. In the process, they colonized a country that was made up of 16 various indigenous tribal groups and established a nation.

Roberts, the first president, remains enshrined in Liberian culture. His birthday remains a national holiday on March 15 and his image is still on the Liberian $10 bill. Born a free Black man, he came here in 1829 and opened a trading store and later became involved in politics. When Liberia became an independent country in 1847, Roberts was elected president, serving until 1856. In 1872, he was elected president a second time, serving until 1876.

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