1980: Thirteen deposed Americo-Liberian officials

On this date in 1980, days after the coup d’etat that overthrew the Liberian government, thirteen of its former officials were shot on the beach near an army barracks in Monrovia.

This day’s scene — messily conducted, according to journalist witnesses, and with four forced to watch the first nine shot owing to a shortage of stakes — got its start in antebellum America, where a weird coalition of slaveholders, abolitionists and slaves themselves conceived ex-slave colonies in Africa as the way to let off the domestic pressure of the “peculiar institution.”

And thus was born Liberia, where African-American settlers promptly assumed the role of privileged elite vis-a-vis the natives that white colonists had elsewhere in the colonial world. The tiny “Americo-Liberian” population ran the country for over a century through the True Whig Party — an aptly retro title.

This was a better deal for the Americo-Liberians than for the other 15 or so ethnic groups, and resentment over economic disparities started gathering head through the 1970’s.

On April 12, 1980, an ethnically Krahn officer named Samuel Doe overthrew — and personally murdered — the last Americo-Liberian president, William Tolbert.

Ten days later, Tolbert’s older brother and an assortment of cabinet officers and other ministers of the True Whig government followed the ex-president into the hereafter* — setting the stage for Doe’s brutal turn in power and the almost continual civil war that has become Liberia’s watchword over the past generation.

* Only four had actually been death-sentenced by their military tribunals, but Doe had the more lenient sentences overruled.

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