African American Officers in Liberia tells the story of seventeen African American officers who trained, reorganized, and commanded the Liberian Frontier Force from 1910 to 1942. In this West African country founded by freed black American slaves, African American officers performed their duties as instruments of imperialism for a country that was, at best, ambivalent about having them serve under arms at home and abroad.
The United States extended its newfound imperial reach and policy of “Dollar Diplomacy” to Liberia, a country it considered a U.S. protectorate. Brian G. Shellum explores U.S. foreign policy toward Liberia and the African American diaspora, while detailing the African American military experience in the first half of the twentieth century. Shellum brings to life the story of the African American officers who carried out a dangerous mission in Liberia for an American government that did not treat them as equal citizens in their homeland, and he provides recognition for their critical role in preserving the independence of Liberia.
Charles Young, the main character who led this military mission to Liberia, was born in Mays Lick, Kentucky in Mason County. He was born enslaved in 1864 and escaped north to Ohio with his father and mother in 1965. He was the third black graduate of West Point in 1889, the first African American national park superintendent in 1903, the first black U.S. military attache in 1904, and the highest ranking African American officer in the Regular Army as a Colonel at his death in 1922. One of Young's most trusted officers during his Liberian mission was Wilson Ballard, who had a dental practice on Walnut Street in Louisville before and after his service in Africa. Ballard died in Louisville in 1943 and was buried at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.
Brian G. Shellum is a retired army officer and former historian and intelligence officer with the Department of Defense. He is the author of Black Cadet in a White Bastion: Charles Young at West Point and Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young.