The Liberian Mural is a magnificent example of Liberian artistry not only because of its beauty and grandeur but it is even more special as many works of art were lost during the long Liberian civil War. The owner: Maria King Wallace, an entrepreneur and business woman, spent 28 years in West Africa, ten of them in Liberia and has collected many exceptional pieces of African art.
As we follow the story depicted in the Liberian Mural, we stop in front of the third panel and attempt to understand what is taking place between the people in the scene.
We study the people. Some dressed in western clothing; their belongings at their feet, they appear to be recent arrivals addressing an African chief, seated and surrounded by his entourage. One of the travelers has his left hand outstretched, palm up in a gesture of someone making a request.
We finally understand that the people in the scene are African American arrivals asking the African chief for a place to settle. The injustice leaves us in shock. To think that African Americans had to beg to be allowed to stay in the land of their ancestors is heartbreaking. But research proves that the American Colonization Society, whose members were among the largest slave owners in the United States, had decided to send away African Americans who had gained their freedom and whom they considered “a disruptive influence in the society.”
The members of the American Colonization Society raised funds to “repatriate” free African Americans under the pretext of sending them to spread the Christian faith.
Commodore Perry made the arrangements for the acceptance of the African Americans with a chief in a territory in West Africa. This was not the place of origin of their ancestors.
The relocated African Americans were grateful to be accepted in Africa although most succumbed to illnesses, hardships, and murder at the hands of tribes who resented their presence and only a few survived the resettlement. Their descendants founded the Republic of Liberia.
The Liberian Mural is a reminder of the forced journey made by our captured and enslaved ancestors, made to work for generations in the Caribbean sugar plantations and the cotton fields and households of their white masters in the United States and subsequently, upon acquiring their freedom, they were expelled from their birthplace.
Maria Elena worked in Africa for 28 years, spending extended periods in Liberia, Tanzania, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, and Benin and traveling to eleven other countries to source commodities.
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Maria Elena King contributes the unique perspective of an American woman, who a traveled alone to remote rural farms in Africa, to acquire agricultural commodities such as cashew nuts to be exported by the ship load. In the process she learned French and Portuguese, to help her manage all the necessary government, banking, port and end buyer requirements for the export of commodities worth millions of dollars, including descending into the holds of ships to verify the cargo as well as scaling ships at outer anchorage to persuade vessel captains to pick up cargo intended to European and Asian destinations.
Over 28 years, Maria Elena resided in 5 African countries; Liberia, Tanzania, Guine Bissau, Ghana and Benin and traveled in 16 countries. She represented and helped to advise and establish foreign companies such as Haramabee International Trading, New York, for whom she set up and managed a chain of American style stores in Liberia, HIT Stores, and the commodity trading company, Sterling Merit, UK. She operated her own businesses; among them Pandora Restaurant and Sports Shop in Liberia’s banking center and SALIB in Benin, a company that imported used clothing from the U.S. for processing and rebaling in her company’s warehouse and sold to Nigerian clients.
Maria Elena obtained a contract from the Port of Cotonou, Benin to collect and rid the port of all the truck and equipment wrecks, blocking the free flow of traffic in the port. The challenging work was achieved over a three-month period and completed in time for the visiting President of Portugal’s tour of the port.
Maria Elena lent her publishing skills, as a volunteer, on newspaper marketing strategies to Liberia’s The Observer and Benin’s Les Echos du Jour and as an interpreter to the President of Benin for the opening ceremony of the Gospel and Roots Festival. Before going to Liberia, Ms. King was a picture editor for Grolier Publishing Company, a writer-editor for the Federal EPA, Public Affairs Office and subsequently for the US Department of Interior, Gateway National Recreation Area, New York and New Jersey. Born in San Jose, Costa Rica and growing up in New York enabled Maria Elena to become fluent in English while retaining her native Spanish.