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The gripping story of two hundred freed Mississippi slaves who sailed to Liberia to build a new colony where the colonists' repression of the native tribes would beget a tragic cycle of violence When a wealthy Mississippi cotton planter named Isaac Ross died in 1836 his will decreed that his plantation Prospect Hill should be liuidated and the proceeds from the sale be used to pay for his slaves' passage to the newly established colony of Liberia in western Africa Ross�s heirs contested the will for than a decade in the state courts and legislature prompting a deadly revolt in which a group of slaves burned Ross' mansion to the ground but the will was ultimately upheld The slaves then emigrated to their new home where they battled the local tribes and built vast plantations with Greek Revival style mansions in a region the Americo Africans renamed Mississippi in Africa The seeds of resentment sown over a century of cultural conflict between the colonists and tribal peoples exploded in the late twentieth century begetting a civil war that rages in Liberia to this day Tracking down Prospect Hill's living descendants deciphering a history ruled by rumor and delivering the complete chronicle in riveting prose journalist Alan Huffman has rescued a lost chapter of American history whose aftermath is far from over

10 thoughts on “Mississippi in Africa

  1. says:

    I've always been rather curious about the history of Liberia and this book seemed like a good way to satisfy that curiosity It was only partially successful in doing so but I do not think that was the intention of the author so I cannot really blame the book I soon began to accept the book for what it was the story of gathering the story and only secondarily about the history itself A controversial decision by a large slave owner in Mississippi to free his slaves by his will sell the plantation and then use the proceeds to fund his slaves' emigration to Liberia in the 1840s forms the seed of the book The will was contested the plantation house burned under mysterious circumstances but many finally were able to make the journey to Liberia Some chose to remain Huffman's own journey began in an attempt to set straight all the stories he had heard about the uprising by the slaves and his own curiosity about the fate of the families Having exhausted his leads in America he decided to take the dangerous trip to Liberia to see what he can learn The story there is discouraging and while he lauds the resilience and hospitality of the Liberians he met it is hard not be remain despondent about the future of that country In the end Huffman is able to tie many loose ends together There were occasional moments in the book when he reflects on the nature of his relationships and on the historical circumstances that brought America and Liberia together and I wished he had done of that I'll go elsewhere for a place to understand the history better and I'll be grateful for this glimpse into why the story is so compelling

  2. says:

    The interesting story of the people from the Prospect Hill Plantation Mississippi who established themselves in Liberia at the time the country was founded The detailed research undertaken both in the US and Liberia shows how the legacy of this group has shaped the West African state and how its complex history has lead to the worst of the problems in the latter half of the 20th Century

  3. says:

    I've read a plethora of books from and about Africa but so far have managed to somehow largely ignore writings about West Africa's Liberia Alan Huffman brings us the fascinating story of a slaveowner from the southern US states who provided in his will freedom for his slaves and the chance to start a new life in the American colony of Liberia I certainly was not aware of the history surrounding such events and had no idea that American blacks ended up becoming slaveholders themselves in places named Mississippi and Louisiana complete with southern style mansions and outerwear fashionable to their white American counterpartsHuffman researches in detail the stories surrounding the fate of the Prospect Hill Plantation slaves and their owners near Red Lick Mississippi and what happened to their descendents upon their arrival back on African soil Within Liberia Sinoe is the main area of focus the the author was regrettably unable to travel their due to the violence of the region in the time leading up to the ousting of President Charles TaylorThe book breaks down into three parts 1 Mississippi in the US 2 Liberia and 3 Common Ground In my estimation too much time was spent on American soil and I found myself wanting to simply fast forward to the author's experiences in Liberia But I understand he needed to set the story up and find out as much information as possible from historical documents what little there was as well as what family histories say from the white Ross families the black Ross families and the in between mulatto families as well He doesn't shy away from the realities that there was a lot of sexual mixing between slave owners and their slaves in the day though doesn't make that a focus of his workAs a white man living in Africa I couldn't help but cringe at some of the experiences he had while in Liberia and the connections he made that followed him for many years after he left from his short research tour The collect call phone calls the emails the constant stream of reuests for money and help getting to the US There's a reason he was warned not to give out his phone number But perhaps he felt obligated upon seeing their decrepit economic state in Liberia the hopelessness that plagues everyone; the lack of opportunity and fight for survival that is a day to day struggle While I wouldn't want to be in his shoes perhaps he made the honorable decision to help support financially those friends he was endeared to in his time overseas and for that and this fascinating story I commend him

  4. says:

    Why do Today What the Courts Can Fight About After Your Death Tomorrow?Though his desire to see his slaves have a power of self determination was not an unheard of idea Isaac Ross created uite a stir when instead of giving his slaves their freedom upon his death he instead willed the estate to be sold after his younger surviving daughter’s death to fund his slaves’ immigration to the colonies being formed in Africa on the slave coast Neighboring plantation owners weren’t surprised that he had conflicted feelings about slavery They were merely concerned that it smacked of abolitionism Then there was the problem of the OTHER heir the grandson he had adopted after the death of his son Isaac named his youngest daughter Margaret Reed and the grandson Isaac Ross Wade as co executors of his will Naturally his grandson disagreed with the plan to cut him out of most of the inheritance though his Aunt Reed was fine with the idea We’re talking about divvying up property right? To support her father’s will Reed echoed his will in her own But when she died young Wade now about 20 contested the wills which his Mother had already been contesting on his behalf since his grandfather’s death In the meantime he moved into the big house and placed himself in authority over the 200 slaves on the estate The legal battles were long and protracted with the American Colonization Society fighting for the slaves Wade lost and yet government officials in the South allowed it to drag on indefinitely Eventually the house was burned to the ground and one of Ward’s young nieces died in the fire The slaves were blamed in the account left by Wards’ son and in the years since that is the only account that exists so it has gone unuestioned That’s where the author picks up the story to argue about what actually took place the night of the fire Before the conflict was over Ross's Prospect Hill mansion would become his belated funeral pyre lighting the sky with its flames and taking with it the life of a young girl and before the ashes were cold men whom Ross had owned and for whom he'd made careful plans would be hanging from the nearby treesHis reason for beginning to trace the Ross families’ history both black and white is that he eventually inherited the massive rosewood and ebony piano from the plantation that was rescued from the fire that night the only thing that survived besides the photos of the elder Ross and family that were removed from the walls In removing the piano from the second floor of the replacement mansion he came to marvel that anyone could have moved it from a burning house and yet not have had time to save a child Other things left uestions in his mind What follows is basically a genealogy traced in a basic he saidshe said reporting style The first part of the book begins in Mississippi with the Ross plantation and covers about a third of the book The middle part is mostly conversations with descendants in Mississippi of those who chose to stay in America rather than immigrate The last third of the book covers the authors travel to Liberia to meet and interview descendants of the expatriates In this section he talks about how the freed slaves enslaved native tribesmen and many of the problems that followedSome of the important points that Huffman brings into the story are the dangers of slavery in Mississippi the practical motivations for Colonization among some of the leaders in the South and the uniueness of conditions on the Ross plantation Whatever Ross’ motivation for the terms of his will he decided their best chance of making their own way was in Africa I had been unaware of the fact that colonization of Liberia had been done over time by effort of multiple societies rather than by the US government by general mandate I hadn’t realized that it began a full two decades before the Civil War being a part of the antebellum abolitionist movement Of course not everyone agreed with this effort Many abolitionists and freed slaves including Frederick Douglass protested Colonization likening it to deportation The irony of releasing slaves only after death is that he freed his descendants from the guilt of being slaveowners yet in my mind he failed to expunge his own guilt Those slaves served him until he died He was concerned with his own comfort enough that it forestalled his chance to see the job done himself in his own lifetimeThe title is a sure example of synecdoche but it is executed uite well Where we often fall guilty of overgeneralization Huffman has done just the opposite in using the State of Mississippi in the title Of course the expatriates who left Mississippi to settle in what would become Liberia in the two decades before the Civil War named their settlement Mississippi in Africa It wasn't much of a leap then for the author to run with that name in the title for this book The problems in Liberia go far beyond the borders of Mississippi They go beyond the Mason Dixon Line and the borders of the world oceans Slavery was not an enterprise began by the United States of America There was no USA at that point The slaves were brought here by French and British settlers who found the native Americans difficult to subject to slavery Africans and Irish and many other people were being used around the world as slaves Though Huffman mentions the French he doesn’t go into the rest A good chart is available on Wikipedia that details the Abolition of slavery and serfdom This chart is very detailed and seems to have been continually updated in the past few years It would be simpler for blacks if all their problems could be blamed on white people and for whites if all their problems could be blamed on blacks Just as it would be easier for those of settler descent in Liberia if they could blame the tribes for all their problems and vice versa But there are always people with whom one has a kinship among the other groups There are always connections The trouble starts when people choose to ignore their affinities and see others as intrinsically differentIf I had a problem with the book it would be that most everything in it can be found on Wikipedia I don’t really see it as worth the time or expense investment other than for sheer pleasure of a decent read It briefly mentions blood diamonds the diamonds for arms trade Al uaida terrorism and human rights And the author avoids the trap of sensationalizing the current political turmoil that has enveloped Liberia since the eighties He talks about the fact that many Americo Africans have fled the country and returned to America because of the violence and bloodshed He points out that many of them will return to Liberia eventually when things are stable In other words he admits that the situation is hopefully a temporary problem This was my stop in Liberia on my Journey Around the World in 80 Books for 2019 My next stop will be Cote d’ Ivoire the Ivory Coast where I am jumping into Didier Drogba’s autobiography I read this in the Audible format narrated by Andrew Barnes in a pleasant voice It was an interesting read for me I am not sure though that it would hold general appeal If my reading time were limited I probably would not have this on my reading list There are many great books out there

  5. says:

    Mississippi in Africa details the extremely fascinating story of enslaved black people who were repatriated back to Africa in the early to mid 19th century and who eventually became the founders of the country known as Liberia In 1836 one Isaac Ross a plantation owner in Mississippi died In his will he specified that the humans he held in bondage should be freed and passage would be paid for their relocation to Africa if they so chose By 1849 200 of the 225 enslaved had emigrated to Liberia Huffman details the histories of these settlers as they are known as they transition into becoming Americo LiberiansOne of the stunning premises in the book is that a prime cause of the Liberian Civil War was the undemocratic control of Liberia's economic military and political infrastructure etc by the the Americo Liberians However as unsettled as I was by that assertion I could not deny the fact that they were very oriented toward America and American culture They built houses in Liberia that were replicas of the ones they built their former owners Their names were and continue to be of European origin Upon declaring themselves free from the American Colonization Society in 1847 the Americo Liberians did the same thing the fighters of the American Revolution did declare themselves free from tyranny while holding people in bondage the ward system It seems so predictable a behavior that I am left wondering how it is that the family of Fela Kuti whose ancestors were also repatriated managed to re integrate into African society so successfully that they are integral to an understanding of modern Nigeria

  6. says:

    The story of the plantation owner who in the early 1830's wrote his will so that his slaves would eventually be freed and have transport to Liberia is I realize a tiny fragment of the story of the South but it was fascinating reading nonetheless The setting Jefferson County Miss went from one of the richest areas in the US to now one of the poorest if not the poorest and we learn much about the lives of the slaves there and about the lives of people who live there now I also learned far about Liberia than I had ever thought I'd know and it is a topic I should have been informed about for years I liked the author's style not really history but reporting he IS a journalist after all and I respected him for his involvement in the lives of the people he met in Liberia

  7. says:

    I found this book when I came back from Liberia When I was there I saw the after effects of the recent Civil War destroyed buildings destroyed economy destroyed people This book helped me to understand that war and how it resulted from generations of tension dating back to the repatriation of freed Negro slaves from America who settled there and the natives who had been living there all along The experience of being in that poor country and the reading of this book had a big impact on me

  8. says:

    White people horrifically kidnapped black people and brought them to Mississippi Grandkids of white people felt remorse and shipped grandkids of said black people back to Africa Nothing good came of either Modern Liberia like modern Mississippi sucks

  9. says:

    Alan Huffman does a lot with a tenuous trail in the book Mississippi in Africa What started with curiosity over how stories evolve became a saga of his own one he never expected to twist and turn the way it did I enjoyed learning about this forgotten part of history

  10. says:

    Mississippi in Africa the History of Black AmericaByline The Book Reviewer wwwthebookreviewercaTitle of Book Mississippi in AfricaAuthor Alan HuffmanNarrator Andrew L BarnesPublisher University Press AudiobooksDate of Publication 2014Time 13 hrs 10 minutes“freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loseand nothing ain’t worth nothing but it's free” Me and Bobby McGee by Janis JoplinKris KristoffersonFred Foster plays uietly as the ghosts of Old Mississippi are celebrated in this fantastical tome Mississippi in Africaby Alan Huffman narrated by Andrew L Barnes An epic masterwork of journalism that explores the truth of African American history and emancipation follows a freed slave colony in Liberia creating enlightenment from the darkness of politicalemotional conflict and violence Because of varying accounts the official records “not always infallible but they were crucial to the telling of this story” noting a certain inertia of mouldering records in boxes and surreptitious record pilfering in the name of preservation at the Jackson County Archives and the nonexistent records in Monrovia Liberia due to the Archives being razed by war and the conflicting oral histories from descendants the author has a difficult task to which he does justiceThe beautiful intonations of Andrew L Barnes spin the story of African Americans as he brings history alive in audiobook through the reading of Mississippi in Africa by Alan Huffman Alan Huffman is a noted journalist and author from Mississippi who has been published in The New York Times the Los Angeles Times Smithsonian Newsweek Washington Post Magazine amongst others and written 5 books Ten Point Sultana We’re with Nobody Here I am The Story of Tim Hetherington War Photographer and Mississippi in Africa This book is a natural for audiobook as it is a first person narrative that tells the story of the research personal accounts and Archives records presenting the African American experience in the United States since the Civil War and particularly the story of the emancipation of people at Prospect Hill Mississippi and the repatriation of most Prospect Hill slaves to Liberia The narrator Andrew L Barnes is a multitalented performance artist with a deep bass baritone voice that brings the story to life I listen to the audiotape as if sitting by the fireside in the long night listening to the rich weave of historical accounts and the living history as told by the descendants of Mississippi plantation owner Isaac RossMississippi in Africa begins with the story of the author a friend of Gwen a descendant of the Ross family who gives him the old run down manse Holly Grove one of the Ross family homes provided he move it to his own property and restore it Holly Grove was an old abandoned manse the author and his friends would camp out in when they were children with the telling of midnight stories of Prospect Hill how Isaac Ross freed his slaves in his will how his grandson Isaac Ross Wade tied up the will in litigation for 10 years how one night in April the coffee was spiked and the fire set killing a child and the hanging of 11 or 12 of the African American people and the freedom of the remaining slaves most to a colony in Liberia The only furnishings that survived from the Prospect Hill fire was the old ebony and rosewood grand piano and some portrait paintings this writer can just imagine how the talk of freedom and going to Africa whilst camping out in the old mausoleum fired the imagination of the author as a child Eventually Gwen gave the old grand piano to Author Huffman who late in the night would hear it mysteriously play as if haunted by the ghosts of Prospect Hill Author Huffman presents the history of Isaac Ross a plantation owner in the early 1800’s the intrigue of his will that set his slaves free and gave them the option of settling in Liberia Ross was noted for treating his slaves well most could read and write they were not beaten and the families were kept together the slaves never sold yet “for the people in the field it was someone else’s cotton” The Ross family had met with tragedy and a number of adult members of the family dying from yellow fever including his wife When Isaac Ross died in 1836 the will was contested by his grandson Isaac Ross Wade who attempted to keep the estate and the slaves tying up the fates of the slaves in litigation for ten years Wade had “no intention of stopping until he won or ran out of options” The slaves were in a uandary and became restive “if the highest court said they were free” why weren’t they? Talk in the community suggested that when Isaac Ross Wade was dead they would be free On April 15th 1845 at 100 am a fire broke out at Prospect Hill the coffee of the Wade family was laced with a sleeping medicant that night by the cook Gracie Ross or perhaps one of the slaves in the kitchen Thomas Wade had not had the coffee that night and he woke to find the front door jammed when he opened the door the slave Esah stood there with an axe but did not bother to help him The child Martha Richardson Wade’s niece died in the fire Everyone else escaped yet the vast majority of the finery and furnishings were lost In the next few days eleven or twelve of the slave “leaders” were hanged Disturbingly there is “not even a footnote in the official written record” in the Mississippi Historical Society or other Archive material of the fire on Prospect Hill or the murders When researching the oral history “the prevailing white version of the story of Prospect Hill always includes the slave uprising but the prevailing black version never does” The history itself is an emotional powderkeg “you know it was bad no matter what gloss you put on it it was a bad thing” Some of the African Americans at Prospect Hill were spirited away by the American colonization society to Liberia After the fire the will was probated in 1849 “200 of the 225 slaves had been given their freedom and had emigrated to Mississippi in Africa” later to be “joined by 200 slaves freed by other sympathetic Ross family members”When the freed slaves arrived in Liberia they were met with violence from the indigenous peoples and the new colony was enmeshed in difficulties Historian Mary Jo Sullivan notes “It’s small size lack of communication with other settlements little support from the American colonization society and the Mississippi Society lack of knowledge of the human and physical environment and sporadic hostility from African neighbours hampered progress” The colony thrived for a time the freed slaves taking in less fortunate indigenous families and JJ Ross establishing a public school in Monrovia However the modern day politics of Liberia has proved unstable and violent manifesting civil war with prejudice and violence against descendants of the American freed slaves In December 1999 the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas called for a tribunal from the United Nations to investigate war crimes Opposition leader Samuel Dokie his family and security people were assassinated; a Monrovia church with hundreds of people inside were murdered; dissidents have disappeared as well as ordinary people in the street feared murdered; journalists had been harassed by the Charles Taylor regime Although the Archives in Monrovia was razed Author Huffman does find and talk to some descendants of the Ross family freed slaves Benjamin Ross tells how most of the homes in the community have been razed “only the vaults in the cemetery they don’t bother” he says “There is nothing left really Just vast land Nothing” Author Huffman and Benjamin Ross share an ironic moment as they realize “his ancestors risked their lives to emigrate from America to Liberia and now he is struggling to get back”In Mississippi in Africa the tumultuous history of the Ross family and their African American slaves creates a living genealogy is the history of the geography the social structure the politics the economics of Mississippi and the Deep South “Money transformed a remote wilderness into a region of wealthy fiefdoms anchored by Greek Revival Federal and Italianate mansions filled with imported furnishings the most elaborate of which were surrounded by landscape gardens sometimes stepping down towards the rivers on terraces while just out of sight were the rude dwellings of the slave uarters with dirt yards” In the background the story of the Civil War weaving the history of black emancipation into the present day the family stories of the oral history of the Ross and black descendants and the history of black and white race relations in the United States After the Civil War “for the next 150 years the population and taxbase spiraled downward taking with it much of the infrastructure that had supported the one crop economy; railroads farms ports ferries bridges roads and countless communities and than a few towns since nothing came along to take cottons place as an economic engine the county founded”When interviewing Dolores Ross she is of mixed race a descendant of Isaac Ross uestioned about her understanding of the Ross will and the events of the black uprising Ms Ross says “One thing it ain’t is black and white” There are photographs of her family and everyone is of different degrees of colour Huffman notes “There are many people of mixed race in this part of the country but they are usually the results of clandestine encounters Racial mixing is rarely documented for posterity articulated by permanent white families like the Ross’ The average Mississippian would not know what to make of the picture because Butch and Delores are clearly abused they are aware that such intermingling does not sit well with everyone and is rarely mentioned in most portrayals of the Ross family This is the Deep South after all known world wide for its troubled racial politics” “If a person grows up in a black family they tend to think of themselves as black regardless of the shade of their skin” and similarly in white mixed race families The struggle for consciousness by the larger white society is mirrored in the varying terms used to describe mixed race peoples throughout history in the United States census record Beginning in 1870 with 3 designations black white and colored introducing the term mulatto in 1880 specifying terms such as uadroon and octoroon in 1890 reintroducing the term mulatto in 1920 specifying anyone of a black bloodline as black in 1930 and finally to the designations of black and white and other racial categories with the option to choose than one in 2000 showing in the last case that racial designation has lost importance in the present day United States Mississippi in Africa is rich with details and stories well researched weaving the personal accounts with archival records creating a sweeping panorama of emancipation and the history and violence of the African American experience in Southern United States juxtaposed with wartorn Liberia Throughout the work it is good to note the positive the benevolence of Isaac Ross freeing his slaves monies sent by Isaac Ross Wade to the Liberian Community how the Mississippi in Africa community attempted to help the local indigenous peoples how Nathan Ross emigrated from Liberia to the United States in the 1980’s has a successful business and sends monies to his struggling relatives in Africa and the story of the author who in return for the gift of the Holly Grove manse researches and writes this detailed history of Gwen’s family This book is an important presentation of history and African American race relations in the United States and Liberia making history come alive not unlike the great non fiction works of Canadian history written by Pierre BertonThis enlightened truthtelling is a must read giving roots to black America Mississippi in Africa by Alan Huffmannarrated by Andrew L Barnes