William R. Tolbert, Jr. bigraphy, stories - President of Liberia

William R. Tolbert, Jr. : biography

May 13, 1913 - April 12, 1980

William Richard Tolbert, Jr. (May 13, 1913 – April 12, 1980) was the 20th President of Liberia from 1971 until 1980, when he was killed in a coup d'état.


Some of Tolbert's children live in New York and Maryland. His brother Stephen A. Tolbert served as his finance minister in the government until his death on April 29, 1975, in a plane crash. One of his sons, A. Benedict Tolbert, was killed in the aftermath of the coup: he had taken refuge in the French Embassy but was arrested by members of Doe's security force who violated diplomatic immunity, and reportedly he was thrown out of a military aircraft while being transported to a prison in Lofa County."1980: The Genesis of Bloodshed in Liberia". National Chronicle 2005-03-23: 1/6. Two of his daughters are no longer alive: Victoria Tolbert Yancy died in 1971, and Evelyn Tolbert Richardson (the wife of a government aviator) died in Westchester County, New York, United States, in 1993."Pres. Tolbert's daughter dies". Monrovia Daily News 1993-06-15: 1. His widow Victoria Tolbert died in Minnesota on November 8, 1997; she had moved to the United States after being released from house arrest in the aftermath of the coup."Victoria Tolbert Dies in U.S" [sic]. The Inquirer 1997-11-10: 1/6.


Tolbert was born in Bensonville, Liberia. An Americo-Liberian, he was the grandson of a former American slave from South Carolina who emigrated to Liberia in the Liberian exodus of 1878.Tolbert, Richard. . AllAfrica.com 2009-05-28. Accessed 2012-06-23. The Tolbert clan was one of the largest Americo-Liberian families in Liberia.

He attended Bensonville Elementary School, Crummell Hall Episcopalian High School, and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Liberia in 1934. He married Victoria A. David, with whom he had eight children.

Tolbert was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1943, and served until being elected vice president. A Baptist minister, in 1965 he became the first African to serve as president of the Baptist World Alliance, and was also a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. He became Grand Master of the Masonic Order of Liberia., Chris Hodapp, Freemasonry for Dummies Blog

Presidency (1971-80)

Following Tubman's death in 1971, his long-serving vice president, William R. Tolbert, Jr., assumed the presidency. To the outside world, this peaceful transition seemed to signal political stability in Liberia, remarkable in an Africa where political turmoil was the norm. However, Liberia was effectively a one-party state where civil liberties were limited and the judiciary and the legislative branches were subservient to the executive branch (compared to Separation of powers between branches of the United States government).

Attitude towards opposition and indigenous ethnic groups

Upon becoming president, Tolbert initiated some liberal reforms and allowed the creation of an opposition party, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia, the first opposition party since the Republican Party had collapsed nearly 100 years previously. Though reelected in 1975, his government was criticized sharply for failing to address the deep economic disparities between different sectors of the population, notably the Americo-Liberians, who had dominated the country since independence, and the various indigenous ethnic groups that constituted the majority of the population.

Because Tolbert was a member of one the most influential and affluent Americo-Liberian families, everything from cabinet appointments to economic policy was tainted with allegations of nepotism. However, Tolbert was also the second president to speak an indigenous language (after President Benson), and he promoted a program to bring more indigenous persons into the government. However, this initiative lacked support within Tolbert's own administration, and while the indigenous majority felt the change was occurring too slowly, many Americo-Liberians felt it was too rapid.

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