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President Tolbert visiting Harper, Maryland County,  1978 (picture taken by the author)

President William Tolbert and Ritual Killings 

The following does neither pretend to cover Tolbert’s entire presidency nor to exhaustively treat the years that indeed are covered (1976-1980). It will be shown that the practice of ritual killings was neither extinct nor limited to a particular region of the country. It will also be made clear that both tribal and non-tribal Liberians were guilty of it. Finally - and maybe most important - the essay leaves no doubt as to the existence of a close relationship in Liberia between elections and internal politics on the one hand and the occurrence of ritual killings on the other. 

Political changes and opportunities

Political life during the 1970s was extremely lively, at least when compared to Tubman’s last ten years (1961-1971). In 1971, Vice-President William Tolbert, a Baptist pastor, had risen to the presidency after the death of President William Tubman and after a power struggle that he had won thanks to confidants like Postmaster General McKinley A. DeShield. On October 7,1975 William Tolbert was elected in his own right, in presidential elections in which he was the only candidate. In January 1976 he was sworn in together with his Vice-President James Greene. 

A new Administration stood for a new cabinet, new appointments, and new careers in public life. Moreover, the quadrennial elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives were held in October 1977 - as well as special elections in 1976 and 1978 due to vacancies in the Legislature. Consequently, political life within the country’s only political party, the True Whig Party, during these years was agitated with ambitious candidates competing with each other. Tension rose and political struggles increased especially after the death of a number of prominent politicians and cabinet ministers. 

On April 28, 1975, the President’s brother, the Minister of Finance, Steve Tolbert, died in a plane accident, under circumstances that have never been elucidated. The following year, on August 15, 1976 the National Chairman of the True Whig Party, Everett Jonathan Goodridge, also Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Urban Reconstruction, died after a brief illness. Who was to succeed him in this dual powerful position? 

Click to supersizeAgain the following year, on July 21, 1977, Vice-President Greene died, after a protracted illness. Vice-President James Edward Greene, who hailed from Sinoe County, had been President Tolbert’s Vice-President since 1972. Who would become the new Vice-President? 

Click to supersizeSubsequently, on September 9, 1978 the Secretary General of the True Whig Party, McKinley Alfred DeShield, and also Postmaster General and cabinet member, died. In 1971 Mac DeShield (‘Big Mac’) had been most helpful in fighting the presidential claims and ambitions of then Secretary of State Rudolph Grimes, a member of the important Grimes and related Barclay clans. Also the DeShields clan was one of the most influential and powerful clans within the Americo-Liberian elite. What was going to happen with the balance of power within the Americo-Liberian elite - which consisted of 20-30 large families who, however, never ruled at the same time?

Important changes at the top of the True Whig Party:
was Tolbert ‘revolutionary’? 





































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