Some of President William V.S. Tubman’ Accomplishments

By: 
By Francis Wolo, Oral Historian, (Assisted by Kenneth Y. Best, Daily Observer Publisher)

When Tubman became President of Liberia in 1944, there were several Departments (now Ministries) in existence.  They included the four   principal ones: State Department, Justice Department, Treasury Department Interior Department. 

He also established the Department of Public Works, now Ministry of Public Works, as well as the Bureau of Mines, which later became the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy.

One of Tubman’s critical accomplishments was his scholarship program, both local and foreign, through which he succeeded in training the first cadre of Liberian professionals.  The nation’s first mining engineer, Arthur Sherman, and first  economist, Charles D. Sherman, Arthur’s younger brother, were among the early beneficiaries of the program.  But the program produced numerous medical doctors and paramedics, lawyers, academicians to man not only the University of Liberia and Cuttington, but primary and secondary schools as well.  Liberia’s first PhD, River Cess born John Payne Mitchell was among the beneficiaries, followed by scores of others.  Thousands of civil servants, including architectural, civil, mechanical, mining, hydrological, cartographical, were also trained.

Scores of Liberians were also trained in the diplomatic field to man the State Department and the nation’s foreign service.  In this training endeavor, President Tubman used government money as well as his immense foreign contacts, with governments in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The Capitol Building was erected in 1958, the Monrovia City Hall in 1959.  Tubman built and opened the Ministry of Information in 1962, first naming it the Liberia Information Service.  It was in 1962 also that President Tubman opened the National Cultural Center at Kendeja on the Robertsfield Highway.

The Executive Mansion was completed in 1964, and so were the Ducor International Hotel, West Africa’s first five-star hotel; and the Temple of Justice.

When President Roosevelt visited Liberia on January 12, 1943, he never reached Monrovia, but stopped at Robertsfield, where the American soldiers fighting World War II as part of the African Theatre, were based.  President Barclay went to meet him. During lunch, President Roosevelt told President Barclay that he (Roosevelt) understood that President Barclay wanted to build the Freeport of Monrovia. So when Roosevelt left for the States, he invited Barclay to the White House, and when Barclay got there, he introduced his successor, President William V.S. Tubman.  The Free Port project was discussed, and President Roosevelt agreed to build the Freeport.  President Barclay told the President that his successor, William V.S. Tubman, who was now President-elect, would complete the project, because his (President Barclay’s) administration was almost over. The idea of building the Freeport was all Barclay’s idea, but President Tubman completed it.  The Freeport was opened in 1948 during Tubman Administration. President Tubman assigned W. H. McClain to represented him during the dedication ceremony.

Tubman accepted a proposal by the new Episcopal Bishop, Bravid W. Harris, to transfer Cuttington College from Cape Palmas to Suakoko, Bong County.

The Grebo people, who comprise the majority in Maryland County, did not want Cuttington to leave Cape Palmas, where it had been founded by Episcopal Bishop Samuel David Ferguson in 1889.  But when the transfer was finally made, they (Grebo people) decided that the cornerstone would not reach Monrovia. 

The rowboat that was carrying the cornerstone capsized and the boat and the cornerstone went down, lost forever.

A new cornerstone was laid in Suakoko in 1948 by Vice President of Liberia, Clarence Lorenzo Simpson, who was then Grand Master of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, also known as the Masonic Craft.

President Tubman also undertook projects in rural development; and established the Government Farm in Suacoco, known now as the Central Agricultural Institute (CARI). 

He also fostered the promotion of women in politics.  In May 1946, following a referendum, women won their suffrage, or the right to vote, for the first time, in any election, including legislative and presidential. The first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives was Mrs. Ellen Mills Scarborough, an educator. Another educator, Mrs. Elizabeth K. Collins, became the first woman to be elected Senator.   He (Tubman) also built the capitol Building in 1957.

Tubman also mandated that the Foreign Officers should get paid before anybody in Liberia, because they are in foreign countries.

He made the first indigenous Liberian Chief Justice of Liberia.  His name was Henry Nemlé Russell.

It was during the Tubman era, in the 1960s, that the Masonic Temple, under the leadership of Frank Emmanuel Tolbert, Grand Master of Masons, was built, on Benson Street, Snapper Hill.

But President Tubman’s most important contribution was the Unification Policy, which culminated in 1964 in the establishment of the four new counties, Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh.  He enunciated the Unification Policy for two primary reasons: first, to end tribal and inter-tribal conflicts among the various indigenous peoples of Liberia.  The second object was to begin to heal the rift between the indigenous people and the settler elite, descendants of the Pioneers who arrived on these shores on January 7, 1822, to found Africa’s first independent Republic.

With the establishment of the four new counties, the indigenous Liberians, for the first time, were able to send two Senators to the Liberian Senate, a political privilege reserved heretofore only for the five coastal counties, dominated by the settlers: Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount and Maryland counties. 

The four new counties, just as the five old counties, were able to send a proportional representation to the House of Representatives.

We believe this is one of the reasons Tubman was able to die in peace, and leave the country relatively at peace, after ruling the country for 27 years. 

When he died on July 23, 1971, he and his Vice President, William R. Tolbert, had just won another election for four more years.     Tolbert filled those four years, beginning in January, 1972, at the end of which he was elected to his own eight-year first term of office, which he did not complete due to the bloody coup d’état that occurred on April 12, 1980.  In that coup d’état, he and several of his topmost officials were killed.

Why did the coup take place?  Many political pundits believe that was because of two main reasons: first, President Tolbert did not follow through with the Unification Policy and take it to its logical conclusion—sharing power with the indigenous majority.

For example, he failed when twice he had the opportunity to select a vice president from up country.  Instead, he chose his first VP from a coastal county, Sinoe, in the person of Senator James E. Greene, a settler descendant.

In exercising his second opportunity to choose a Vice President, President Tolbert picked a man not even from another county, but from the same District in which Tolbert lived—Lower Careysburg in the Careysburg District.  That person was United Methodist Bishop Bennie D. Warner.

Tolbert ignored the advice of many Liberians, including two brothers, to name as his running mate a young man who at the time was most probably the most prominent indigenous son in the Republic, Jackson Fiah Doe of Nimba County.  Reared and sent to the University of Liberia by Chief Justice and Mrs. Louis Arthur Grimes, it was Jackson F. Doe who, as Principal of the Saniquellie Central High School in 1959, delivered the Welcome Address at the Sanniquellie Conference, where President Tubman, Ghanaian Prime Minister Nkrumah and President Sekou Toure of Guinea laid the foundation for the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union).

In December 1971, while the new  government was being formed and  preparing for Tolbert’s first Inauguration, Kenneth Y. Best, then Director of the Press and Publications Bureau in the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, suggested to a prominent nephew of President Tolbert named Weseh to plead with his uncle to choose Jackson F. Doe as Tolbert’s running mate.  But this nephew could not—or pretended not—to understand why.  He counter argued that many indigenous sons had already been named to the Cabinet and that Jackson had already been appointed Deputy Minister of Education.  Mr. Best told the nephew that that was nothing new, since Presidents King, Barclay and more so Tubman had included several indigenous sons in their Cabinets. 

In his book on Albert Porte, Mr. Best said he told this nephew, “I am talking about power sharing, Weseh.”  But visibly displeased, he returned to the Executive Mansion where he worked at the time.

Five years later, in 1975, Kenneth’s eldest brother, Canon Burges Carr, an eminent African theologian, who was then serving as General Secretary of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches, the leading pan-African church body, visited Monrovia and gave President Tolbert the identical advice: “Name Jackson Doe your running mate, Mr. President.”

But Tolbert thought differently and instead, chose a man from his own District—the Careysburg Distinct of which Tolbert’s hometown, Bensonville, is part!

The rest, indeed, is history.       

The Unification Policy made President Tubman overwhelmingly popular with the indigenous people, who were in the vast majority of Liberians.  This is one of the reasons that Tubman became the longest serving Liberian President, 27 years, from 1944 to 1971.   

Liberian Observer

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