Charles D. B. King
Charles Dunbar Burgess King
|Term||17th President: 1920 – 1930|
|Born||March 12, 1871, Monrovia, Liberia|
|Died||September 4, 1961, Monrovia, Liberia|
|County of Origin||Montserrado|
|Political Party||True Whig Party|
Charles Dunbar Burgess King was born in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1871. Some sources claim that he was born in Sierra Leone. His father, T.O. King was a Nigerian who migrated to Liberia via Sierra Leone. King’s mother, Elizabeth Jean Hamilberg was an Americo-Liberian. He received his elementary education in Liberia and studied in Sierra Leone for many years. He later earned his law degree from Liberia College.
|–||Clerk at the Department of State, later became chief clerk|
– Law Professor
– Vice President
– Acting President
– President of the Board of Trustees
|–||General Secretary of the True Whig Party|
|–||National Chairman of the True Whig Party|
|1904 – 1912||Attorney General of Liberia|
|1912 – 1920||Secretary of State|
|1920 – 1030||President
|1922 – 1928||Grand Master, Masons of Liberia|
|–||Liberian Ambassador to the United States|
|–||Liberian Ambassador to the United Nations|
C.D.B. King also held a number of other public and private positions before he became president of Liberia. As Secretary of State, he represented Liberia at the Peace Conference and was a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. King was at the conference when he was elected to serve as Liberia’s 17th president.
King began his presidency with the country in troubled financial situation as a result of World War I and decreased trade with Europe and the United States. He travelled to the U.S. to negotiate aid which could pay the nation’s debt and assist the financial state of the country. Nevertheless, the U.S. had a new administration and congress and had suspended all foreign aid. Eventually, the State Department granted Liberia a loan of $5 million, but Congress did not authorize the loan.
King had also met with representatives of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and encouraged black migration to Liberia. He later realized that the group’s intention was to establish black colonies in Liberia. He deported their representatives and made it known that he was the president of Liberia, not the black race. He was for building his country and promoting nationalism and was in no way interested in racialism.
His reaction to UNIA was lauded by the African colonial powers and other Europeans. During his presidency, Liberia saw its first vehicle and the telephone system was introduced.
Firestone Rubber found Liberia’s climatic conditions ideal for its rubber production. In 1926 Firestone leased 1 million acres of land from the government and established the Firestone Rubber Plantation in Harbel. This was considered an economic opportunity as Firestone would create jobs for 25,000 Liberians. A loan of 5 million dollars was arranged to allow Liberia to pay off her debts. Firestone was later criticized for treating Liberia like a colony and the unfavorable working conditions of its laborers.
Forced Labor and the Fernando Po Slavery Scandal
In 1927, King won re-election in a landslide and his victory was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the most fraudulent election in history (Kraaij). After the election, King’s opponent, Thomas Faulkner, accused King, VP Yancy and Postmaster General Samuel A. Ross of using the Liberian Frontier Force of forcefully sending Liberian natives to the Spanish Island of Fernando Po and other regions as contracted laborers.
These accusations gained international attention and the League of Nations organized a committee to investigate the situation. This Committee included Dr Cuthbert Christy, an Englishman representing the League of Nations; Charles S.A. Johnson, an Afro-American representing the USA; and former President Arthur Barclay representing Liberia (Kraaij).
By all accounts, conditions on the island were appalling – twelve hour workdays, nights spent locked in crowded barracks, a few yams and dried fish for sustenance, and for those who stole, shirked or protested, brutal punishment. There were even reports of overseers flogging men to death. Many others died of disease, malnutrition, or exhaustion before their contracts were up.
And those who survived and returned to Liberia often went unpaid;…
The investigations uncovered that the Liberian government was involved in a form of slavery by forcefully sending its native citizens to Fernando Po and using others as farm help in Liberia. Not just the Americo-Liberian government, but Firestone Plantation had also benfitted from this arrangement.
– Shipment to Fernando Poo and Gabon is associated with slavery because the method of recruiting carries compulsion with it.
– Persons holding official positions have illegally misused their office in recruiting with the aid of the Liberian Frontier Force.
– Not only Americo-Liberian government officials had benefited from the fruits of forced labor, a large foreign enterprise was also involved: Firestone.
After the report was published, the House of Representatives began procedures to impeach President King. To avoid public trial, King and his VP resigned. He was succeeded by Secretary of State Edwin Barclay. Many Liberian men that were taken to Fernando Po were returned to Liberia and their families.
King turned his focus to his rubber plantation after leaving office in 1930. By 1944, he was back in the political public sphere and considered an elderly statesman. He was the first Liberian Envoy to Washington DC and later the first representative to the United Nations. The former president finally retired from public service in 1952, and dedicated his time to the Protestant Episcopal Church and Mason until his death at age 90 in 1961.
Burrowes, Carl Patrick. Power and Press Freedom in Liberia, 1830-1970 : the Impact of Globalization and Civil Society on Media-government Relations. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2004. Print.
Ciment, James. Another America : the Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 2013. Print.
Dunn, D. Historical Dictionary of Liberia / D. Elwood Dunn, Amos J. Beyan, Carl Patrick Burrowes. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001. Print.
“Ex-President King of Liberia is dead.” The Afro-American. 16 Sep. 1961. Print.
Kraaij, FPM Van Der. “President Charles D. B. King 1920-1930.” Liberia Past And Present. N.p., n.d. Web.
Maugham, R. The Republic of Liberia, Being a General Description of the Negro Republic, with Its History, Commerce, Agriculture, Flora, Fauna, and Present Methods of Administration,. C. Scribner’s sons, 1920. Print.
The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, ed. Robert A. Hill (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2000). Electronic version based on The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, ed. Robert A. Hill, Volume 8, (Berkeley: University of California Press).