I Married a Liberian
In the 1960s, as a white college student, I married my anthropology professor, who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. In the course of our 41-year marriage, we made numerous trips to Liberia, including visits to his tribal village of Vahun upcountry in Lofa County. He also had close ties to the Dennis’ of Monrovia.
We Wrote Slaves to Racism Together
After were were married 30 years or so, my husband was losing his eyesight and he really wanted to explain the causes of Liberia’s Coup of 1980 and subsequent civil wars in the 1990s. By that time, he was retired and for the next 14 years, we worked on that book, Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, which describes the effect of racism on Liberia, comparing it with America. I thought I knew him pretty well, but I learned a lot more about him as he told me stories of his teen years in the 1940s in Liberia. The following is an excerpt from that book:
Aunt Louise and Mr. Trinity
As a young teenager, I admired my Aunt Louise, who was widowed in her twenties. She was short and shapely, and always smartly dressed. I liked the way she parted her thick hair in the center and wore a little hat on the right side of the part.
At Aunt Louise’s shop on Benson Street, people liked to sit on the little front porch and drink cane juice and talk. One of her regular visitors was Mr. Trinity, who lived three blocks away. He was a very prominent Americo-Liberian who was a typesetter for government documents at the Old Executive Mansion on Ashmun Street. He was known to spend more time at work than most government employees.
They were Both Christians
Trinity was a Methodist and he was prominent in the lodge. He always wore a Masonic symbol on his shirt pocket. He tamped his pipe with something that had a Masonic symbol on top.
Aunt Louise was Baptist. She was a staunch supporter and kingpin of Providence Baptist Church. The pastor himself had taken the Stubblefield name because her family had supported his training in America. Aunt Louise served as the head of every church social event, community project, and charitable effort. Mrs. Clement, the pianist, was her assistant. Whenever anything was proposed, someone said, “Talk to Louise.”
She was always busy preparing for church retreats or picnics in Clay Ashland or White Plains. She was always raising money for food, clothing, and medical care for poor Americo-Liberians. No one could turn her down when she collected, whether they were Americo- Liberian or a foreigner.
At the same time, everyone in Monrovia knew that Trinity was Aunt Louise’s lover and that he was married to someone else. While this was going on, Trinity’s wife was having her own affair with an American Negro preacher at the Jehovah’s Witness church in Monrovia.
They Were Openly Lovers
One day I said to Aunt Louise, “Why does Mr. Trinity come here every day?”
“He’s my lover. Don’t you know? Everybody knows that.”
”But he’s married and you’re going to church and working hard for the church. Isn’t that a contradiction?”
“Benjamin! You’re a Liberian! This is Liberia. You ought to understand.”
Since I still looked puzzled, she went on, “Well, I guess you’d have to be a real Liberian to understand it. We’re not doin’ it in secret so it’s not cheatin’. Everyone knows about us. You’ll learn when you live here long enough and grow up. I bet you’ll accept it too.”
The next day, I said to Mr. Trinity, “Does your wife know about your relationship with my Aunt Louise?”
He said, “Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course, she knows! I’m here every day. On Saturdays, I buy things for her and the store. We’re hidin’ nothing. She knows everything.”
Aunt Louise Directed the Youth Program at Providence
My Aunt Louise was very personable. As director of the youth program, she counseled many girls. One day I was at her house, when a young girl from church came in. Aretha was a slim, attractive upriver Americo-Liberian girl who was very popular in church.
When she walked in, she was so troubled, she ignored that I was there. She blurted out, “Miss Louise, I have a problem. I need your help. Otherwise I’m gonna run away from home.”
“I don’t know how much I can help, but let’s hear the problem.”
“If I don’t go to bed with Mr. Wilson, my father won’t get that position in government.”
I knew Mr. Wilson. He was one of those prominent government officials who went into the office for a few hours a day. He was a tall, large, nice-looking man in his forties – married, with lots of money. He was friendly with young people. I played checkers with him.
One of the Girls Has a Problem
Aretha went on, “My father’s forcing me to go to bed with Wilson cause he’s close to Tubman. He told my father he could get him any job if only I’ll ‘love’ him. Miss Louise, I’ve tried three times but it’s too painful. I’m not gonna do it anymore.
“When I told my father, he said, ‘You’re a woman. You gotta help me get that job.’ Will you talk to my father? Please? Otherwise I’m running away from home even though I don’t know where to go.”
“That’s not right. I’ll do what I can.” A few weeks later Aretha moved in with Aunt Louise.
Servant Girls were Preyed Upon by Americo-Liberian Men
Native girls who were servants in Monrovia, and upriver Americo-Liberian girls saw their fortune in becoming the mistress of a prominent Americo-Liberian, especially if they were young and pretty.
One day, I was at Aunt Louise’s shop when a native girl named Candy came in and said, “Aunt Louise, I got a dilemma.”
“Candy, why don’t you come back when Benjamin isn’t here.”
“Oh, Benjamin can hear it too.”
“O.K., go ahead.”
“Mr. Johnson’s so nice to me. He’s the second person I’ve gone to bed with.”
“How long have you been goin’ to bed with him?”
“Oh, about six months or so. The other day he showed me the place where he promises to build a house for me. But there’s a big, big problem.”
“Building a house for you is a big problem?”
Candy Has a Problem
“No, I don’t’ mean that. When he goes to bed with me, it hurts.”
“Have you told him about it?”
“Yes. When he comes to the house calling me, I hide. I pretend I’m not there cause I know what he wants. He buys clothes and shoes and all kinds of stuff for me. If I keep refusing him, he won’t buy me anything or build me a house. I wanna house so much!”
“Candy, you’re a young and attractive girl. I remember when you were baptized by Rev. Stubblefield. You sing in the church choir. You know Mr. Johnson is married. Do you think Jesus likes what you’re doing? It’s a sin, you know. What about Johnny? That young man you were going with. People were saying you two should get married. Johnny’s working as a government clerk. You’ll soon finish your shorthand course and get a good job too.”
“You’re right, Aunt Louise. Johnny’s the first man I went to bed with. But we don’t have anything yet, so I’m depending on Mr. Johnson to support me. I know Johnson won’t stop me from marrying Johnny cause he’s married.”
“That’s why you should stop going with him. The Lord will provide. Are you telling me that after you get married, you’ll still be doing this on the side? No, sister, God doesn’t like that.”
Candy started crying and hugged Aunt Louise. She said, “Please pray for me to do the right thing.”
Several weeks later, I asked Aunt Louise, “How’s Candy coming with her problem?”
“She said she’s only been with Mr. Johnson once in three weeks. But she hasn’t given him up. She said the gifts and the possibility of a house are just too tempting. Pray for her, will you, Benjamin?”
This Was a Practice in the 1970s as Well
During a visit to Liberia in the 1970s, an upriver Americo-Liberian told me his daughter was to blame for his poverty.
“Tubman loved the girl so much. He wanted to take her with him somewhere he was going, but she refused and said she wasn’t going to do any of that. If she’d only done that, Tubman would’ve fixed me up with a good job. Even now, the girl is pretty. Big people talk to her and want to take her on trips, but I’m tellin’ you, B.G., the girl is stone crazy. She won’t do it. That’s why you see me just struggling with nothing. The only thing keepin’ me up is this property with my little houses that I rent out. One of my houses is rented by foreigners. B.G., I would’ve been a rich man if that girl had only obeyed me and done what every family is doing. Will you talk to her?”
I was curious to hear his daughter’s viewpoint so I spoke with her. She told me, “I’m not gonna sell my body for someone else. If I ever did that, I’d do it for myself. Let a man marry me. It’s as simple as that.”
I Wrote our Love Story
After my husband’s death in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.