Today In Black History: Joseph Jenkins Roberts

On this date in 1809 Joseph Jenkins Roberts was born in Petersburg, Virginia, the son of free "Blacks" whose heritage was more than seven-eighths white. Roberts was a Black nationalist during slavery who would go on to become the first president of Liberia from 1848-56. At the age of 20, he immigrated to Liberia with his mother and younger brothers became a merchant, and also an unofficial aide to the white governor of the colony, Thomas H. Buchanan, a member of the American Colonization Society, which sought the return of American freedmen to Africa. On Buchanan’s death in 1842, Roberts was appointed the first Black governor of the colony.

From 1856, he served as president of the new Liberia College and, during a prolonged financial crisis, served again as president of the republic from 1872 to 1876. Joseph Roberts died February 24, 1876 in Monrovia, Liberia.