By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II
The election of 1955 can be called in Liberia the election of the century. It was a race between the teacher and the student or the father versus the son. Former president Edward Barclay challenged President Tubman. Why did Barclay, who was comfortably retired, come out to challenge his in-law and protege? The narrative below answers the question.
Having resisted petitions to challenge Tubman and having patiently tried and unable to change Tubman’s mind regarding the reforms, Barclay finally agreed to enter the race against Tubman. He did so mainly because Tubman freed from prison members of the “Bamboo Society”, a group from the Vai tribe accused of an assassination attempt on President Barclay. Barclay jailed them and refused to pardon them before leaving the office.
Barclay believed that Tubman’s action to free his enemies was a personal attack, an affront and that Tubman’s reforms were intentionally geared to publicly disgrace him. He informed the Liberian people of his regrets to have supported a man whom he did not know very well and to have selected him as his successor to the presidency.
Nevertheless, Tubman had the upper hand. As a sitting president, he had all the power of the office at his disposal. Secondly, he mastered all the “tricks “ and strategies Barclay had taught him, some of which he (Tubman) had used on Twe through Barclay’s advice.
However, Barclay was also popular and many of the Congos in the party and many of the natives in Twe’s defunct party supported him. Further, many of the natives in the rural areas, where Barclay had visited during his presidency, supported him. They included Grandcess and Barclayville, a capital named after him while in office. Some people insinuated that Barclay was from Barclayville and that he was Kru. Really, he was born in Brewerville in Montserrado County. His paternal grandparents came from Barbados, West Indies.
To get more native votes, Barclay chose Nettie-Sie Brownell as his running mate. Brownell was Grebo and from Maryland County. He was the father of the just deceased Mary Brownell. He was nationally popular, especially in the Southeast of Liberia.
The Krus in Claratown and in other places in Monrovia marched with placards in support of the former president. “Barclay is a man”, they shouted as they marched. Teacher Jugbeh, a former representative in the Liberian Congress and a leader in the Twe party, was an organizer of the demonstration. My mother, a market woman residing in Claratown, marched in that demonstration. She was not political and maybe she and others were told to march.
Apparently, the Krus had forgotten that it was the Barclay administration which used heavy force against the Kru resistance in the 1930s and caused the deaths of many Krus, including Warrior King, Senyon Juah Nimley.
On the other hand, some of the Vai, particularly families of the freed prisoners, did not support Barclay for the reason that if elected, he would retaliate against them. Barclay was nominated and became the standard bearer of the Independent True Whip Party, a breakaway group of the ruling True Whip Party.
The election was held in May 1955. Tubman defeated Barclay by a landslide and thoroughly. According to results, Tubman won 99.5% of the votes, Barclay 5% and William Bright of the Independent Presidential Party received 0% or 16 votes.
To punish members of the opposition and to stop further political challenges, Tubman is said to have used “a play from the playbook” of Barclay. Accordingly, within two months after the election, a marked man named Paul Dunbar was arrested for an alleged assassination attempt on the president at the Centennial Pavilion, where Tubman was attending a function. Dunbar confessed and named the plotters. Barclay’s party was implicated. The government security arrested and jailed some leading members of the party. Jailed members included Thomas Nimene Botoe, Kru governor in Monrovia, Gbafleh Davies, party organizer, S. Raymond Horace, legal adviser of the party, and Nettie-Sie Brownell, former Attorney General and vice presidential candidate to Barclay.
Samuel David Coleman, a key member of the opposition, escaped arrest as the government security approached him at his Coleman Hill residence. He was a son of former president William David Coleman, who resigned the presidency in part due to disagreement with the government’s native policy.
The government army chased and killed Samuel Coleman and his son on his farm in Bomi County. The son, John Coleman, had just returned from studies in the US before meeting his death. The government publicly displayed the bodies in Monrovia to warn future opposition politicians. Barclay, however, was not arrested nor harmed. His party died just as Twe’s. Barclay died within months of that year.
It should be noted that Samuel Coleman’s father, President William Coleman, was accused of the massacre of over 10 chiefs of Gola, Vai, Mandingo and Kpelle tribes who, by government invitation, had come to Monrovia to attend a tribal peace conference. The invitees were gunned down by the government troops. Perhaps the authorities feared that tribal unity would have threatened the power of the settler ruling class.
Coleman, a president who had advocated for better relations with the interior people, was embarrassed by the massacre and therefore resigned. While his enemies in the government welcomed the resignation, it created a succession problem because the Secretary of State was made president instead of the vice president or the Speaker of the house.
That massacre occurred in the late 1800s, by 1895. In the early 1900s, another atrocity happened. As documented by Anthony Morgan, Jr., in 1930, the government killed native chiefs for testifying to an international investigation. “……. Another orgy of revenge was carried out on those chiefs who had testified before the commission. Towns and villages were razed and more chiefs executed, imprisoned, fined, flogged and humiliated in front of their people.”
The investigation concerned Fernando Po, an island in Equatorial Guinea. Liberian natives from the Southeast were forcibly recruited to work there as laborers. President King and his Vice President Yancey allegedly received a commission per recruited worker. Many natives died on the job. Their insurance benefits were not paid to their families but reportedly shared by the president and his VP. The investigation, conducted by a League of Nations team found the King and Yancey government guilty. Hence, they were forced to resign.
Also, in addition to the above atrocity, the government in retaliation expelled Didhwo Twe from his congressional representative position for criticizing the government and for informing the world regarding the incident. This was prior to Twe’s candidacy.
Barclay, secretary of state under King, became president after the resignation and, as stated earlier, was succeeded by Tubman. Tubman stopped further opposition to his (Tubman) rule and to that of the Congo establishment.
In 1968, Tubman imprisoned Ambassador Henry B. Fahnbulleh, a Vai, who was Liberian Ambassador to Kenya and jailed James Gbyeyea, Robert Kennedy and Gabriel Fangarlow, superintendents of Bong County, Lofa County, and Nimba County respectively for an alleged attempt to overthrow the Americo-Liberian government. The accused were all natives. Tubman kept them in jail until his demise.
It should be stated also that in the second term of the King administration, in 1924, Henry Too Wesley became King’s vice president. Wesley was Grebo from Maryland County and his position was the highest ever for a native under settler rule. He was succeeded by Yancey also from Maryland County.
Main Pic; William Tubman, www.amazon.com