Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



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.



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Committee Chair

Burstein, Andrew



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