J.J. Roberts’ Birthday is observed on March 15. Joseph Jenkins Roberts was Liberia’s first and seventh president. He led the movement for an independent Liberia and was so popular that the people re-elected him three times. J.J. Roberts’ Birthday is observed by citizens countrywide as a day of recognition for the founding father’s sacrifices as the leader of the movement for an independent Liberia. It challenges Liberians to emulate his statesman, diplomat, and humanitarian actions. Citizens also pay homage to their country’s historical role in Africa as the pioneer of Western-style democracy.
History of J.J. Roberts Birthday
Joseph Jenkins Roberts was born in 1809 in Norfolk, Virginia, in the U.S. The son of free persons of color, Roberts led a relatively privileged life for an African American at the time, working in his adoptive father, James Roberts’ boating business. The senior Roberts died shortly after relocating to Petersburg with his family. The younger Roberts continued to work in his late father’s business. He apprenticed at the barbershop of William Colson — one of the most educated African American residents in the town. Colson was also a minister. Recognizing the brightness in Roberts, Colson gave the young man access to his library, sparking the youth’s interest in intellectual pursuits.
Roberts grew to be a wealthy and well-educated person, but even though he was a free man, he was still of African ancestry, which placed certain social restrictions on him. When he heard about the American Colonization Society and their attempts to create a colony on the African coast, he joined up with a group of Virginians leaving for Monrovia, the capital of the colony Liberia. In 1829, Roberts sailed for Africa with his mother and all but one of his siblings.
In 1833, Roberts was appointed high sheriff of Liberia, collecting taxes from indigenous peoples’ colonies. In 1839, Roberts became the vice governor after appointment by the American Colonization Society. When his superior Thomas Buchanan died two years later, Roberts became Liberia’s first African American ruler. He led the call for sovereignty over the next five years and was successful when Liberia was declared independent in 1847. Roberts was elected the first president, serving a total of eight years. A devout Christian, Roberts educated some Liberians and converted them to Christianity. He also ended the Atlantic Slave Trade in Liberia.
J.J. Roberts Birthday timeline
The Liberian Declaration of Independence is adopted and signed.
After the ratification of the constitution, the first election is held.
President Abraham Lincoln extends official recognition to Liberia.
The True Whig Party is founded, dominating the Liberian political scene for more than a century until the coup.
President William Tolbert is overthrown and murdered in a violent coup staged by an indigenous wing of the Liberian armed forces, led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe.
J.J. Roberts Birthday FAQs
What is the importance of March 15 in Liberia?
This date marks the birthday of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first president of Liberia.
What language is spoken in Liberia?
English serves as the official Liberian language.
Who was Liberia’s first vice president?
Nathaniel Brander was the first vice president of Liberia.
How to Observe J.J. Roberts Birthday
Study Liberian history
Liberia was the first example of what Western-style democracy could achieve in Africa. Their transition from colony to republic inspired other African politicians and freedom fighters for years to come.
Read more about J.J. Roberts
Roberts led a storied life. In the years between his first and second term as president, he served as a Major General in the Liberian armed forces, worked as a diplomat for the U.K. and France, and was a professor of international law at the Liberia College that he co-founded.
Learn about the American Colonization Society
The American Colonization Society helped thousands of freedmen make a new life in Africa. They played a central role in Liberia’s history during the early years of its founding.
5 Facts About Liberia
It’s the first and oldest African republic
Liberia was the first African country to declare independence and is the oldest republic.
Liberia was never subjected to colonialism
Even at the height of the scramble for Africa, Liberia remained the only black state in Africa that was not colonized by any European nations.
First African female head of state
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first African female head of state, serving from 2006 to 2018.
Capital named after an American president
Monrovia is named after the American president, James Monroe, and is one of two capitals named after a U.S. president, with the other being Washington D.C.
The message behind its flag
The single star represents the nation’s status as the only independent Western-style nation in Africa, while the 11 stripes symbolize the 11 men who signed the Liberian Declaration of Independence.
Why J.J. Roberts Birthday is Important
Celebrating a successful democracy
Liberia was the first democratic nation in Africa. It set the tone for future political and social reforms.
Believing in a dream
J.J. Roberts and the thousands of freedmen who followed him believed in their dream of an independent country for their people in Africa. Thanks to his efforts, this dream came true, and they established a new, permanent home in Liberia.
A symbol of freedom
Liberia comes from the Latin ‘liber’, which means freedom. The nation still symbolizes this today.
J.J. Roberts Birthday dates