Did you know? Liberians in Rhode Island

Did you know? Liberians in Rhode Island


Rhode Island (specifically Providence) has the highest Liberian population in America.

Liberia, a West African country about the size of Tennessee, wasn’t colonized until 1822. What makes Liberia different from any other country in Africa—or any other country in the world, really—is the fact that its first foreign settlers were freed American slaves. The settlement was the brainchild of the American Colonization Society—an organization working to “repatriate” African-American slaves to Africa. That first colony of former slaves was built on a 36-mile-long and 3-mile-wide strip of land that the ACP purchased—most say forcefully—from a group of local tribes. In 1824, the colony was named Liberia, after the Latin word for liberty, and the capital was named Monrovia, after President James Monroe.

As the colony flourished, more and more American states started shipping freed slaves back across the Atlantic. In 1847, the Americo-Liberians voted in favor of independence. Not surprisingly, Americo-Liberian culture was deeply rooted in the antebellum American South, and a stark split formed between the Americo-Liberian colonizers and the Africans who had been there all along. In a bizarre version of the conditions they’d left behind, Americo-Liberians acted as the master-class over local tribes they forced into slavery. For over a hundred years, Liberia was ruled by a small number of families whose ancestors had been on that first ship back to Africa in 1822. In Africa, Liberia was known as “Petite America.” Then, in 1980, an African named Samuel Doe murdered the President in a military coup. From 1980 until 2003, Liberia was in a state of virtually continuous violence, resulting in over 200,000 Liberian deaths. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country, many of them to America, and many of those to Rhode Island.

With an estimated 15,000 Liberian residents, Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Liberians of any state in the country. Though Liberians only make up 0.4 percent of Providence’s population, Providence maintains one of the three largest Liberian immigrant communities in America.

Rhode Island is a small state. Rhode Island reminds us of Liberia. Liberia is just a little larger than Rhode Island.” Elaine Traub, Liberian nurse.

“I can drive from here, two blocks, and meet another Liberian, and go downtown, and wherever I go, I will meet Liberians.” Eleanor Gaye, Liberian restaurant owner.

Sources: In Their Own Words, Liberia comes to America