This Day in Black History: Feb. 6, 1820

The Mayflower of Liberia, a ship carrying 88 free African-Americans, sets sail for the West Coast of Africa.

Posted: 02/06/2013 06:00 AM EST

On Feb. 6, 1820, a group of 88 free Black men and women set sail for the British colony of Sierra Leone aboard a ship called the Mayflower of Liberia. The voyage marked the first organized immigration of Blacks to Africa.

The group’s travel was funded by the U.S. Congress and organized by a Quaker organization called the American Colonization Society. Many Quakers believed that Africa was a better place than America for African-Americans to thrive and that total integration into American life would be impossible.

The group landed safely at Sherbro Island, off the coast of Sierra Leone, on March 9, however, many soon succumbed to malaria over the course of the year.

The idea of an African-American colony in West Africa was revived in 1821, when a U.S. Navy ship traveled to Liberia in search of land for a new colony. An area was identified and four years later, the colony was formally named Liberia and its capital was named Monrovia after President James Monroe. Over the next 40 years, between 15,000 and 20,000 freed Blacks and Africans rescued from illegal slave ships would be brought to the colony. The colony faced many struggles and regular attacks from local people.

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 (Photo: Courtesy of the Robert W. Woodruff Library/Emory University)

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