By Keith Neville Best
Following the 1944 emergence to the Presidency by William V. S. Tubman, Albert Porte’s writings took on a more political flavor. It is believed that his prolific bent gained added momentum as a result of the readiness with which he tooled up his spirited pen against the excessive use of power by Tubman. It is not surprising that one of his first major clashes with Tubman centered on monthly deductions of funds from his meager teacher’s salary to support the ruling True Whig Party.
Here was a man declaring boldly that he would neither be a member nor supporter of the ruling and only political party permitted to operate, at a time when everyone was presumed to be partisan or was too afraid to say otherwise. Taken by the moral and intellectual courage of Porte’s posture, the real significance of his stance was lost on many.
In effect, however, Porte was articulating the almost nonexistent opposition to Tubman’s autocratic rule. In substance, the political activist was setting the stage for his crusade against the Tubman hegemony, crystallized by the Church, State and Party triumvirate – the superstructure of Tubman’s 27-dictatorship.
If no one else felt the threat or saw the need to oppose this over-concentration of power in in the hands of one man, to the detriment of the nation and people, Albert Porte saw his mission “to be about his Father’s ‘business’ was at hand.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, it seems that Porte resigned himself to the recognition that his own business was not his Father’s business, but that his Father’s ‘business’ was now to become his. Tautology? Hardly! The willing crusader was well-acquainted with the Biblical Proverb: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all other things shall be added unto you.” Porte believed that once he undertook what his Master set him out to do, rather than give priority to his personal or domestic affairs, the Lord would secure and provide for him and his family. Indeed, Albert Porte’s children as well as several others whom he and his wife fostered are a living example to those who would cherish their duty to God and their country
The political theatre in which Porte found himself positioned at center stage during the mid 1950’s, was not new to him. He had passed this way before. While Porte had been making virtue of the curse: “By the sweat of thou brow shall thou eat bread,” Tubman had been engaged in what might be described as ‘turning God’s curse on its head.’ In a bid to strengthen his totalitarian hold over the country, Tubman had, to a large extent, triumphed in undermining the agro-based economic independence of the Liberian people.
Indeed, by the end of his second term in 1954, as perceived by presidential challenger, former president Edwin J. Barclay, Tubman had succeeded in making “people, expected to be leaders in the process of maintaining personal liberty and universal freedom, reduced to the condition of parasites, time-savers, ‘yes’ men and cringing servants to one man’s will.”
In addition, Barclay indicated that he saw “the lines of demarcation constitutionally fixed between the several powers of government so obliterated that the process had successfully achieved the dictatorship of one man. The indecent voice of the legislature is stifled. The courts have become obedient to his slightest nod,” Barclay concluded.
It was such unconstitutional fusion of powers that Albert Porte identified as being the source of Tubman’s dictatorial powers. Small wonder that most of his writings during that period, including Glimpses of Justice in Liberia, An Explanation, etc., attacked this usurpation and co-option of legislative and judicial powers that were further enhanced by executive emergency powers, which, according to Porte, Tubman’s “rubber stamp legislature unjustifiably restored at his behest from time to time.”
A recurring theme which punctuated much of Porte’s essays at this stage was the supremacy of God as the Great Designer of all things, and man’s co-partnership status in the general scheme of things.
Porte appears to have been convinced that Tubman’s emasculation of Liberian manhood and his success in influencing every aspect of their individual lives pushed them to the brink of deifying or making god of their leader.
In True Whig partisan D. Nyeka Chie’s May 2, 1968, Liberian Star article, he said of Tubman: “We see the hand of God at work. He is the gift of Providence to Liberia at such a time as this, for no man can do the things he has done except God be with that man. Name or show me what he has left undone and I will enumerate thousands of things he has accomplished within a relatively short space of time in government, the religious, social fraternal and cultural life of the nation; the physical plant of Liberia, the human and natural resources on land; on the sea and in the air.”
With the Church, State, Party and fraternities so closely bound together and controlled by one man, Porte’s responsibility seemed to be – or so he thought – to try and fill the moral vacuum which the situation had created. His articles, thereafter, always started with several quotations from the Bible.
Convinced that Porte was determined to keep up the fight, Tubman, it seems, decided to ignore him. But Porte was not a person to be ignored as Tubman came to realize. Believing that sending Porte to jail would slow him down, Tubman had Porte imprisoned on several occasions, all to no avail. Despite Porte’s persistence, however, Tubman remained unwilling to bow to the crusader’s moral superiority. When Tubman died in July, 1971, the Tubmanic cult which had been created survived and lingered on.
The Tolbert Years
When Tolbert took the reins of power in 1971, he appeared to be in agreement with the need to fill the religious vacuum which Tubman had created. From his point of view as an ordained Baptist preacher and President of the Baptist World Alliance, however, he found himself well positioned to exploit to the fullest, his public image as a ‘man-of-God.’
In a very short while it became clear that this white-clad man-of-God had plans of his own. Expectedly, as early as 1973, Tolbert ran into conflict with the Porte philosophy of accountability of government officials to the public in general. As an editor of the critical magazine, the ‘Revelation,’ which first appeared that year, Albert Porte, along with his co-editors lashed out at nepotism in government, the misuse of public funds and other abuses.
Barely a year later, the moral and intellectual conflicts inherent in the Americo-Liberian hegemony would flare up with Porte’s stinging pamphlet, Gobbling Business. This article laid open the high-handed and unfair business practice of the Tolbert administration.
Following the overthrow of the Tolbert regime by the People’s Redemption Council in 1980, Albert Porte was, for the first time, accorded some official recognition for his dedication to public welfare. Some, however, regarded certain moves intended to honor the “old Man,” as a public relations gimmick, intended to silence him.
While Porte accepted the change in government as a necessary evil, he refused to be taken by the professed good intentions of the military. Hopeful that the military would return the country to civilian rule in 1986 as pledged, Porte consented to work on the drafting of a new constitution for the “Second Republic.”
Understandably Porte, the critic, and Head of State Doe, found themselves on different sides of the fence. Porte spent the last few months of his life shuttling amongst opposition parties. His message..? “Unite – especially in the face of opposition.” Unfortunately, the leaders of those opposition parties were marching to different drums.
In the darkest hour of their existence, Liberians would be fools not to recall the most important lesson that Port’s life has taught: “that a people must never lose hope in God; that they should generate confidence in themselves; and that they should always act in their own interest as a people, relentlessly protesting social injustice, stamping out individual and collective indifference and apathy and defying political tyranny.”
The huge mixture of friends and enemies at Albert Porte’s funeral activities in Monrovia and Crozierville truly reflected the man’s concern for his country. Indeed, a patriot of the century had fallen.
Editor’s note: This article by Keith Neville Best was first published in the June Edition of the X-RAY Magazine in Monrovia in 1986, it originally appeared under the title: the Porte Tubman Combat.