Conflict & Justice

Why does America have a 'special' relationship with Liberia?

Liberia's history with the United States is complicated, surprising and has more than a little to do with racism.

A racism that even tarnishes the Great Emancipator himself: Abraham Lincoln.

Back in the days of slavery, you see, many whites just didn't like seeing free blacks.

Period.

In speeches and debates, Lincoln made clear that he didn't think black and white could live together as equals. Many free African Americans weren't too pleased with their situation, either.

The solution people came up with was colonization — the creation of a new country, far away, for free blacks to call their own. And, they decided to call this new place Liberia — which means land of the free.

For two generations, from 1821, the so-called "American Colonization Society" assisted thousands of African Americans in moving to Liberia.

But, Liberia was not empty of people for America's colonization project.

And sadly, Liberia became home to a new form of exploitation and racism, by the very people who had left America to get away from that kind of thing.

Tensions between the locals and the Americo-Liberians was a big factor in the civil war that wrecked the country after 1989.

That's over now. Today, Liberia is a fairer place. But very poor.

And it still has close ties with America.

Why, they even put Abraham Lincoln on a postage stamp, in 2009.

This video was produced in partnership with Frontline.