Liberia is a West African nation founded by formerly enslaved people from the American South between 1820 and 1865. President James Monroe’s administration furnished the funds for the freedmen and is honored by Liberia’s capital city: Monrovia. Liberia is unique among African nations because a colonial government has never controlled it.

The formerly enslaved people subjugated the indigenous Mande, Kwa, and Mel people in the same manner that white colonists later did. A ruling class of Americo-Liberians dominated the government, despite comprising less than three percent of the population. The Americo-Liberians spoke English and copied the architecture of homes in the Southern United States.

Liberia (map)


The Republic of Liberia, is a country in West Africa bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast to its east.

The Americo-Liberians avoided the Scramble for Africa by maintaining close ties to the United States, but they also allowed American businesses to exploit their nation’s natural resources. The last Americo-Liberian leader, William R. Tolbert, was the grandson of formerly enslaved South Americans. He was believed to have stolen about $200 million from the Liberian treasury.

Tolbert was killed in a 1980 military coup led by Samuel K. Doe, who opposed the privilege of the Americo-Liberians. Doe brutally ruled Liberia for ten years until being tortured and killed by rebel forces.  A civil war is a war within a nation, unlike a war with other nations. Liberia’s civil war lasted from 1989 to 1997, when another military strongman, Charles Taylor, sealed his control over the nation. Taylor attempted to overthrow the government of neighboring Sierra Leone. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity by an international court set up by the United Nations. In 2012, Taylor was sentenced to fifty years in prison, where he remains. The civil wars destroyed much of Liberia’s economy, causing many business people to leave.

Child soldier in Liberia


Children as young as eight served as soldiers in the Liberian Civil War. reports that the use of children in military forces, and the active participation of children in armed conflicts is widespread.

The Liberian people held free elections in 2006. They chose Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Africa’s first elected female head of state. In a peaceful transition of power, former soccer star George Weah was elected to the Liberian presidency in 2018 in Liberia’s first peaceful transition of power in 74 years.

Liberia Resources

Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on African History.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (b. 1938) is served as President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa.