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Table of Contents

“Emigration and Civilization” is an essay in ALexander Crummell's collection of writings titled Africa and America. In this essay Crummell, an important figure in the early Black nationalist and Black Separatist movements, presents a case for oppressed Americans of African descent to emigrate to Liberia.

Themes

“And thus you may see that emigration is a marked feature of the world’s history; and that the transplantation of fragments of the children of Africa to this Western Coast, is not an exceptional fact; is not an isolated event. Colonization is history; prompting whole races of men, and determining the destiny of nations and continents.”(1)

It is in nothing less than as the nature of history and Providence that Alexander Crummell places the forces of migration, emigration, and colonization as well as the impact that they have wrought upon the world and its people. The opening quote from and 1863 sermon at Trinity Church in Monrovia comes as Crummell presents a case for Americans of African descent to return to their ancestral continent bearing the gift of Christianity. References to the Israelite migration from Egypt to Canaan abound early and fade as Crummell presents his case for the migration he is promoting to Liberia.

Crummell’s case at this point is strongly a spiritual one, and while the Christian theology he advances is largely rooted in the liberation tradition he makes it clear and unambiguous that supplanting local indigenous religions is one of his goals. He makes it clear that a substantial influx of American immigrants of African descent are going to be needed for missionary work is going to be necessary to convert the African population, while deemphasizing the potential need for immigration to provide labor due to the already substantial population. In this and other ways the plan present in Crummell’s sermon offer a blueprint for a retrograde colonization of Africa led by those emigrating to the Ancestral continent.

The colonization of Africa by the descendants of those taken from it advanced by Crummell has elements to it that resemble some contemporary ideas of “nation building.” A relatively young state with a fairly weak government, Liberia in the mid nineteenth century was a country with a fairly blank slate to be developed by those wishing to leave the new world. The recognition of Liberia’s African American government as well as the support of whites back in the United States largely conferred a degree of legitimacy on the international stage to the immigrant colonization of the state. While the project of assimilating the indigenous Africans to the ways of the Americo-Liberians would largely be disappointing, in the 1660’s during the middle of Liberia’s second decade there were a lot of factors making Liberia an appealing target for those leaving the Americas for Africa.

The overriding vision advanced by Crummell was one of a country shaped by the lessons of the African’s experience in America. The government would be shaped by the ideals of the American Revolution, but equality for all would really mean equality for all; Christianity would be the guiding foundation of the spirituality of the people, and the benevolent immigrants bringing the gifts of Christianity and civilization would be able to shape the whole of the country into their image. Those immigrating would be allotted land and would have access to the local labor under fair terms and for fair wages. Missing from Crummell’s vision in part is the perspective of the local African population.

One can not entirely fault Crummell’s enthusiasm for brining civilization and correcting the wrongs of the United State’s founding fathers, but the oversight of the nontrivial matter of the local people seems to contain an almost necessary element of irony. Regardless of their particular ancestry’s Africans brought to the Americas through the trauma of the Middle Passage and enslavement were united in large part through the injustices suffered. The various tribes and nations of people inhabiting Liberia before the establishment of the state in 1847 lacked a uniting experience in a way that could homogenize the internal politics of the fledgling state such that the indigenous tribes could feel a single Liberian national identity coherent with geographic borders rather than existing community affiliations. The beginning of the Liberian experiment though predates the struggles of building national identities which would plague the large part of African and Asia following the mass decolonization movement which followed the World Wars.

Crummell advances a Christian utopian vision for Liberian and the continent of Africa, with the divine purpose of those whose were taken from the ancestral homeland to reclaim the continent. The vision was closer to colonization or nation building on a continent wide scale than the Christian Utopian communities such as New Harmony which sprung up in North America, however the spiritual element is the driving factor in Crummell’s project for Liberia and the African continent. The scale of the project envisioned though rivals nothing less than the colonization of the Americas, though it would encounter problems not seen in a large scale until the beginning of the wider decolonization efforts which has left the 21st century world with most of its current states and their borders.

Notes

  1. Crummell, Alexander. “Emigration, an aid to the evangelization of Africa” in Africa and America, 407-429 (Springfield, MA: Willey & Co., 1891), p. 412

Africa and Americaon Google Books, free full text and eBooks editions available


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