Washington — Liberia was founded in 1822 to give greater freedom and equality to formerly enslaved black Americans. In present-day Liberia, 5 percent of the population traces roots to Americo-Liberians, those African Americans who emigrated to Liberia and established a government modeled on American democracy. They named the capital city Monrovia, after the fifth U.S. president, James Monroe.
The first president of Liberia — a name derived from “liberty” — was Joseph Jenkins Roberts, born in Norfolk, Virginia, who emigrated to Liberia in 1829 and became the country’s first black governor in 1841. Under Roberts’ encouragement, the legislature founded the Republic of Liberia on July 26, 1847. Liberia celebrates its Independence Day on July 26. Roberts was elected president and reelected three times, serving a total of eight years. He was elected president again in 1871 and served until 1876.
In the 20th century, Liberia played an increasingly important role in international affairs. Liberia was a founding member of both the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations. In 1946, Liberia extended the right to vote to its indigenous peoples. Liberia was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
After decades of civil strife, Liberia successfully conducted peaceful elections in October 2005. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Following a meeting with Sirleaf in April 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “President Sirleaf and her administration have worked tirelessly over the past three years to ensure that Liberia’s reforms, reconstruction and development take root and are lasting successes.”