Local historian chronicles black emigration to Liberia

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 28, 2014 

Matt McDaniel, here with his daughter, Lucy May, recently published a book about the emigration of African-American residents of the Chattahoochee Valley to Liberia.

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In the aftermath of the Civil War, free blacks and former slaves yearned for a place they could call home. Many sought refuge in the west African colony called Liberia.

Of 4,000 who emigrated to the colony with the help of the American Colonization Society (ACS), more than 500 were from the Chattahoochee Valley, including 447 from Columbus and 39 from Eufaula, according to Matt McDaniel, a local historian.

“Thus, the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants represented a substantial number of post-war emigrants and were a major contingent in the ACS’s short-lived, post-war emigration boom,” McDaniel wrote in his newly published book, Emigration to Liberia: From the Chattahoochee Valley of Georgia and Alabama, 1853-1903.

McDaniel will share the untold story of families who emigrated to Liberia 3 p.m. Saturday at the Mildred Terry Library, 640 Veterans Parkway. The event is sponsored by the Muscogee Genealogical Society, in conjunction with the Historic Chattahoochee Commission. It’s free and open to the public. Prior to the presentation, the society will hold a short business meeting that will include election of officers. Light refreshments will be served.

McDaniel is a professional architectural historian. He holds degrees in history and historic preservations from Louisiana State University and the University of Georgia, and now lives in Columbus. His book is the first to chronicle the regional exodus and what happened to those who emigrated.

According to the book, blacks who left the Chattahoochee Valley were motivated by their desire to escape a white supremacist society and the wide availability of land in Liberia, which offered hope of prosperity.

“The emigrant group was largely made up of families and included many children,” McDaniel wrote. “Most were farmers, but some tradesmen and clergymen also emigrated. All faced many hardships. Some returned to the United States; however most stayed, and a small number prospered.”

For more information visit http://www.muscogeegenealogy.com or call 706-243-2782.

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