Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
It’s an indisputable fact that every month of the year or certain months of the year are important to people for certain reasons. Sometimes it is the day of nativity, graduation or a day that something special happened or took place in one’s life, for which such a month should be remembered, memorialized or commemorated, in whatever form and fashion, as one decides or wishes.
It was in March 1994 when I along with a senior colleague, the late Sam Van Kesselly, joined other journalists from many African countries to participate in what was known as the International Visitor’s program sponsored by the American Government. This was my first trip or visit to the world’s biggest democracy and so I was filled with ecstasy upon being told by the US Embassy in Monrovia about my selection for the visit.
The Late Martin Luther King Jr
The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Launched in 1940, the IVLP is a professional exchange program that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders. These visits reflect the International Visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.
It was designed to increase mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through communication at the personal and professional levels. The IVLP Program brings participants to the United States from all over the world each year to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and to experience the U.S. firsthand.
Rev. Samuel Reeves
The visitors, who are current or potential leaders in government, politics, the media, education, and other fields, are selected by American Officials overseas. More than 200 current and former Heads of State, 1,500 cabinet-level ministers, and many other distinguished world leaders in government and the private sector have participated in the International Visitor Program
Our month-long stay in that great country provided us the opportunity to understand some issues of the American society. In all estimation, it was rewarding and educative. Some of the areas we visited were Washington D. C., New York, Lincoln, Nebraska, Memphis, Tennessee, and California. We began the study tour in Washington D.C. with the normal orientation on the purpose and intent of being part of such program.
Additionally, we also toured many facilities in that country. They included the US Congress, VOA, CNN, Silicon Valley, Lincoln Memorial, the UN Headquarters and the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum. Besides we were made honorary citizens of some areas, as well as councilmen.
Prior to going to the United States, I had an appreciable admiration for that country based on its high level of nationalism, patriotism as well as its movies. In addition, the visit made me to develop a deep sense of admiration for the American people for the preservation of historical sites, which I observed is immensely contributing to its tourism program.
Coincidentally, today, I am reflecting on that visit to the US and other areas later because I heard that the Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, which is considered “The Cornerstone of the Nation.” where the Declaration of Independence was signed is observing its 200th years of existence.
The 11 men who signed the document which represents the 11 stripes on the Liberian flag, were Samuel Benedict, presiding the convention, Hilary Teague, Elijah Johnson, John N. Lewis, Beverly R. Wilson and J.B. Gripon (representatives of Montserrado County); John Day, Amos Herring, Anthony W. Gardner, Ephraim Titler (representatives of Grand Bassa County); and Richard E. Murray, representative of Sinoe County. The independent state of Maryland in Africa, created in 1854, joined Africa’s first republic in 1857.
According to history, the church was established by some American missionaries. In January of 1822 they and their families arrived at the Providence Island on the Mesurado River in what is today Liberia. Immediately, upon their arrival they established the Providence Baptist Church on a high level ground overlooking the Mesurado River on the north and the Atlantic on the south. In October 1825 the first sanctuary was dedicated.
In 1828 when Carey died, Providence had 100 members. Rev. Colston Waring became pastor thereafter. In 1830 a revival was started and continued for six months. During this revival, 100 members were added to the church. This revival extended to Caldwell, Carey Town (New Georgia), Millsburg, Cape Mount and Grand Bassa.
In 1839 the present stone sanctuary (the old church) was completed. It was in these sacred walls, the nation Liberia was born, and declared Africa’s first independent nation, a beacon light of hope to Africans and the world. The first Legislative Assembly – The House of Representatives and the Senate were held in this sanctuary. Thus Providence has been revered as “The Cornerstone of the Nation.” Providence was the first Christian Church established and founded in Liberia and one of the oldest on the continent of Africa.
On Sunday, July 18, 1976 under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. E. Toimu A. Reeves, the congregation of Providence dedicated the new edifice called “The Ark.” The old stone edifice became a National Shrine in 1975. Presently, the church is headed by Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr. as her 23rd pastor in 200 years. Before returning to his beloved Providence, Dr. Reeves served as Co-Pastor of the Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States of America. While at Madison, Dr. Reeves established a Congregation-to-Congregation Cross-cultural Partnership between Madison and Providence.
Let me say that whenever I make a visit to any country, I always focus on its tourism programs because of the neglect of such program in our country. It is sad to note that this country that is blessed with numerous historic sites which can be transformed or developed for tourism purposes, has not done much in this direction.
Some of the sites are the Providence island, where the freed slaves landed in the 1800’s; the old edifice of the Providence Baptist Church on Broad Street, where Liberia’s Declaration of Independence was signed; Late Piso, Lake Shepard and Kpatawee Waterfall etc.
My interest in this is about the 200th anniversary of the church for the mere fact that whenever I reflect on my visit to the US, especially as it relates to TOURISM, I always mention the old site of the church on Broad Street, which can be transformed to a tourism site. Regrettably to note, despite the numerous articles on this matter, nothing seems to be insight for this.
My inspiration was based on what I saw when we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum in Memphis. Hence, making the church a tourism site could be a major boost to our country’s tourism program, which is comparatively lagging behind other countries.
Known as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, it is one of the nation’s premier heritage and cultural museums and is steadfast in its mission to share the culture and lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement and explore how this significant era continues to shape equality and freedom globally.
Established in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Through interactive exhibits, historic collections, dynamic speakers and special events, the museum offers visitors a chance to walk through history and learn more about a tumultuous and inspiring period of change.
According to information, to accommodate public demand for further educational opportunities, the museum underwent a $27.5 million renovation in 2013 and 2014, adding more than 40 new films, oral histories and interactive media to the already robust galleries. The result is one-of-a-kind experience that has been featured on the History Channel and CNN, in USA Today and as the focus for the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306.
Furthermore, it is said that it is among the top five percent of institutions to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and is a founding member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which brings together historic sites, museums and memory initiatives from all around the globe that connects past struggles to today’s movements for human rights and social justice.
I am making reference to this historic site because the same can be done with the Providence Baptist Church and some of the historic sites in this country.
I am raising this issue because I saw that museum and got the feeling as if King Jr. was still alive. If we do not have the expertise, our traditional friend – the United States of America could be asked to help in this endeavor. But we as a people and nation MUST start the ball rolling.
As the church commemorates 200th years of existence, let this inspire us to transform its first edifice to a tourism site not only for intake, but historic purposes. Let me thank the church over the years for preserving this historic site. If we have not been contemplating about this, this is the time to do so, as it is often said, “better late than never.”
I am of the strong conviction that the church, now under Rev. Dr. Samuel Reeves, innovative person, would not interpose any objection on such that is not diametrical to its MISSION, especially knowing the historicity of the church.
I Rest My Case.