Colonization and Emigration
The Reasons for Emigration and Colonization
The Colonization of Sierra Leone
The Colonization of Liberia
Migration to Haiti
Migrations to Other Lands
The Debate over Emigration and Colonization
Marcus Garvey's Back-to-Africa Movement
Consequences of Colonization and Emigration

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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 neighbors.

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.

Five letters from the William Alpaeus Hunton PapersFive letters from the William Alpaeus Hunton Papers

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