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Trans-Atlantic Sojourners

The Story of an Americo-Liberian Family
M. Neely Young

BUY Paper · 262 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780977722068 · $21.50 · Jan 2018

Unique in its formation and in a citizenry made up largely of repatriated ex-slaves, Liberia has been the scene of a fascinating intercontinental history. Trans-Atlantic Sojourners enters this history through the experiences of one Americo-Liberian family. M. Neely Young introduces us to two patriarchs, both former slaves--Othello Richards of Rockbridge County, Virginia, and William Coleman of Fayette and Woodford Counties, Kentucky. From their arrival in the new African republic in the 1850s until the overthrow of Americo-Liberian rule in 1980, the family played a key role in the nation’s economic affairs, representing the interests of the interior agriculturalists against the merchant elites of Monrovia, and was prominent as well in Liberia’s political and cultural arenas.

The author traces the family over a number of generations, revealing a course as dramatic as that of the country itself. With the violent upheaval of the 1980s, most of Richards’ and Coleman’s descendants escaped to America; in the time since, some have recently returned to Liberia. Encompassing the issues of slavery, white and black colonization, the tensions within the Americo-Liberian class, and the Liberian concept of "black republicanism," this family's narrative reflects historical patterns in Liberia and America that resonate to today.


"An astonishing multigenerational story. An epic study of political leaders over nearly two centuries, and it is also a study of both African American history and Liberia's history."

Alfred Brophy, University of Alabama, author of Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation

"Broadly researched and very readable. Students of identity, race, and culture will find this transnational study informative and useful."

Marie Tyler-McGraw, author of An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

Americo-Liberians historically have not received much respect...As M. Neely Young observes, the term Americo-Liberian itself came "to imply superiority, exclusivity, and insensitivity" (p. 2). For Young, that characterization represents an overgeneralization that fails to distinguish the capital Monrovia from the rest of the country. In the Richards and Coleman family, he has found a more sympathetic leadership extending across generations. Young has done admirable research to trace the family's origins...Young...succeeds in using the family history to frame a more balanced and sympathetic perspective on the history of Liberia.

Paul Harris · The Journal of Southern History

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