Her ancestors were enslaved in the U.S. Now a Trump decision could lead to her deportation to Africa.
Former American slaves were moved to Liberia in the 1800s to solve the “problem” of black and white people living alongside each other. Their descendants are facing the same journey.
Afomu Kelley was just 11 years old when she left Liberia with her mother in the early days of a civil war in 1990. She remembers standing in a crowd jostling to board an airplane to the United States for what she thought would be a six-week vacation.
Instead, the war in Liberia escalated and Kelley, now 40, never returned to the West African country. She grew up in Northern Virginia, where she finished high school early, and attended the University of Maryland. She has an American accent. Sometimes she doesn
But at the end of this month, she may be forced to return to a homeland she barely remembers.
“It is cruel to tell me that I have to go back to a place that I don’t know,” said Kelley, who lives in Greenbelt, Md., with her daughters, ages 9 and 11. “I don’t even know the street I lived on. But I can tell you every diner between here and New Hampshire.”
For some, Trump’s move to end immigration protection for Liberians echoes a troubling moment in U.S. history, when the land that would become Liberia was colonized by Americans to relocate former slaves and their descendants.
“You’d have to be pretty historically illiterate not to recognize a special relationship between the U.S. and Liberia,” said historian Nicholas Guyatt of the University of Cambridge in England.
The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 with the goal of voluntarily settling black Americans in West Africa, a plan supported both by some abolitionists and by slaveholders who feared revolts led by free blacks.
The society, while not part of the U.S. government, counted such figures as James Madison and Francis Scott Key as members. It gained influence as consensus grew among the American elite that colonization was needed to solve the “problem” of black and white people living alongside each other. In 1822, Liberia was founded.
The society ultimately failed in its goal to deport most black Americans, whom co-founder Henry Clay said “never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country.” Still, thousands of African Americans, drawn by the promise of economic freedom and self-governance, crossed the Atlantic to settle Liberia by the end of the 1800s.
They were Americans in every respect, having lived in the United States for most or all of their lives. They lived apart from the Africans in the area, about whom they knew little, and experienced high mortality rates from disease in the tropical climate.