Review: Mississippi in Africa

August 16, 2011

Mississippi in Africa
Mississippi in Africa by Alan Huffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mississippi in Africa details the extremely fascinating story of enslaved black people who were repatriated back to Africa in the early to mid 19th century and who, eventually, became the “founders” of the country known as Liberia. In 1836, one Isaac Ross, a plantation owner in Mississippi, died. In his will, he specified that the humans he held in bondage should be freed and passage would be paid for their relocation to Africa, if they so chose. By 1849, 200 of the 225 enslaved had emigrated to Liberia. Huffman details the histories of these settlers, as they are known, as they transition into becoming Americo-Liberians.

One of the more stunning premises in the book is that a prime cause of the Liberian Civil War was the undemocratic control of Liberia’s economic, military and political infrastructure, etc by the the Americo-Liberians. However, as unsettled as I was by that assertion, I could not deny the fact that they were very oriented toward America and American culture. They built houses in Liberia that were replicas of the ones they built their former owners. Their names were (and continue to be) of European origin. Upon declaring themselves free from the American Colonization Society in 1847, the Americo-Liberians did the same thing the fighters of the American Revolution did – declare themselves free from tyranny while holding people in bondage (the ward system).

It seems so predictable a behavior that I am left wondering how it is that the family of Fela Kuti, whose ancestors were also repatriated, managed to re-integrate into African society so successfully that they are integral to an understanding of modern Nigeria.

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