From a Traveller


W.E.B. Du Bois


December 1, 1932

I most emphatically think that the Negro has a better chance in Liberia than any where else in Africa. I haven’t been everywhere, but the Gold Coast is supposed to be the very best colony in all Africa. I was seven weeks there. Let me tell you one incident. I was walking down the street by the market in Accra. The sidewalk was so crowded that the people were also filling the street. Most of them women and children. I did not see the first part of this incident but what must have happened was this: An Englishman in a car turned the corner very rapidly. A young Negro, well-dressed, very wellbred looking must have called out to the Englishman to be careful on account of the women and children in the street. He couldn’t have called loudly or rudely or I should have heard. I was only a few steps away but looking in another direction. What I saw and heard was this: The Englishman stopped his car at the curb, jumped out upon the sidewalk and slapped the young man in the face and shouted (I heard him very easily!) “How dare you call out to me like that? Don’t I know more about running a car than you. I’ll have you arrested if you dare to call out to a European.” The young man said absolutely nothing. Then turning, the Englishman saw me (I seemed to be the only European in sight), and said: “This is outrageous. Such insolence!” And I said: “You are showing them such a good example of self control, aren’t you?” He turned redder and said: “It’s you missionaries who ruin them.” I didn’t argue with him and tell him I wasn’t a missionary. What was the use! He walked to his car and as he got in he turned to the perfectly silent crowd and said: “If any of you dare to shout at a European, I’ll have you arrested! And not one native made any protest. They evidently knew it would be perfectly useless.

Contrast this with the story Mr. Buell tells about a Firestone man slapping a Liberian native.

The Liberian Government is not blameless, but its worst sins are shared by the would be reformers. If they forced men to go to Fernando Po and Libreville, the partners in the forcing were the owners of the European ships and the Spanish and French concessionaires or governments. The brutalities of the Frontier Force are brutalities practiced by soldiers everywhere—Americans in the Philippines, the English in Ireland, and the French, everywhere. The Liberian Government didn’t have this standing army until the English and French forced them to. And as for taking lands and forced labor at home—where have there been in Liberia such forced labor as in the French Congo, such spoilation of land as in South Africa and Kenya?

I believe the graft the most serious blot, but as in Latin America, is it those who buy and benefit or those who are bought and are tempted who are most to blame? Mr. King was no worse than those presidents kept in Cuba, in Peru, and in Venezuela by American capital and the American Department of State owned by capital. The trouble with Liberia is that Liberia is objecting to the boa-constrictor—a proper hare should enjoy being swallowed.

I hope and pray that the Liberian Government will see that these taxes for their salaries are as wicked as the National City Bank and Firestone extortions. But we, of the country of the National City Bank and Firestone, have no right to throw stones. And as for law and order, you know one is safer in Liberia than in New York. Ask poor Lindbergh.

I know that Liberia is not able to spend so much on education as the British colonies, or the West Coast spends on the education of the Africans, but knowing how to read is not everything. Some Englishmen twitted Madariaga about Spain’s wishing to have a permanent seat in the council, saying: “Why, the large majority of Spaniards are illiterate!” Madariaga retorted: “Does it show greater lack of intelligence not to be able to read—or to be able to read The Daily Mail?”


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1932. “From a Traveller.” The Crisis 39 (12): 387–88.