The most enduring consequence of colonization for African Americans was
the sense of freedom and liberty the experience provided. In their letters
home, they frequently stressed the deep satisfaction they derived from living
free in a non-discriminatory environment. For people who had suffered
enslavement, doomed to live and die in bondage, emigration represented an
opportunity to start new and independent lives. They felt that they would
rather live free in hardship than endure the yoke of oppression in the United
States. But some migrants returned home, disappointed that Africa was not the
Promised Land they had hoped for.
For many Africans, the arrival of black Americans was, at best, a mixed
blessing. The newcomers often exploited and mistreated them, and did not accept
them as citizens or as equals. People were dispossessed of thousands of square
miles of territory. In 1843, the United States cruisers helped put down a
revolt of native Liberians against the exploitative trade measures imposed by
the Americo-Liberians, as they called themselves. An all-out war erupted in
1875 between the colonists and the Grebo, and violent conflicts persisted until
the turn of the twentieth century.
The colonists saw themselves as bringing Christianity and Western
civilization to the local population, regardless of whether it was appropriate.
Their ethnic and cultural chauvinism often served to devalue the rights,
aspirations, and cultures of the native people. The identities the migrants
created for themselves were frequently in conflict with the African context and
way of life. Nevertheless, some settlers tried to strike a balance between
their Eurocentric worldview and the perspectives of their African
Liberia's colonization helped promote capitalism, Christian missionary
zeal, and Western cultural penetration. The settlers introduced American
political ideas, trade practices, foods, concepts of land ownership, and even
some diseases. But in the hybrid society that developed in the country, African
cultural influences played a significant role.
One of the more positive effects of the migration was the establishment
of a journalistic tradition in West Africa. In Liberia, the Jamaican-born
immigrant John Russwurm, a pioneering African-American newspaperman, edited the
Liberia Herald. Bishop Henry McNeil Turner's papers,
The Voice of Missions and The Voice of
the People, were widely read in West Africa, and his nationalistic
rhetoric gave his readers hope for a better life. A lasting free press
tradition was established that, over the years, influenced Africans to demand
change in their societies.
In the United States, the colonization/emigration movement galvanized
political activism among African Americans. It also contributed to the rise of
radical abolitionism in the 1830s, particularly in response to the activities
of the American Colonization Society.
The importance of colonization and emigration lies not so much in its
numbers, but in the fact that the issue raised the nationalist consciousness of
America's black population. Perhaps its most enduring legacy was the
Pan-African movement, which blossomed in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. A concept pioneered by Martin R. Delany, Edward Wilmot
Blyden, and others, it led to the recognition that until Africa was free of
oppression, black people around the world could not become free.
The visionary African-American leader W. E. B. Du Bois who had never advocated emigration would spearhead
Pan-Africanism throughout his lifetime. In 1961, like Henry Highland Garnett
before him, Du Bois, in his old age, left the United States for Ghana, where he
died on the eve of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Other African Americans would follow his path, immigrating to various parts of
the world in search of their dream of freedom and equality.