The Presidency

President Sirleaf Attends 35th Anniversary Memorial Service for Deceased Officials of Tolbert’s Regime

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(MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Wednesday, April 22, 2015) President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has reminded Liberians that God, in his bountiful mercies and love, has given us the chance over and over to right the wrongs of the past.

 “It was with the spirit and values of Christianity of our forefathers that Liberia was born to right the wrongs of the past and build a great nation; but we still continue with the wrongs of hatred, injustice, lies, undermining, discrimination, wickedness, among others as a nation,” the Liberian leader pointed out.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian President made the assertion at the 35th Anniversary Memorial Service for former officials of the William Richard Tolbert Government killed on April 22, 1980. The Memorial Service was held at the First Presbyterian Church on Broad and Johnson Streets in Monrovia.

William R. Tolbert, Jr., 20th President of Liberia from 1971 until 1980, was killed in a violent coup d’état in the early hours of April 12, 1980 by 17 non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe.

By the end of the month, most of the cabinet ministers and senior officials of the administration had been put on trial and later sentenced to death. Many of them were publicly executed on April 22 at a beach near the Barclay Training Center. Only four of Tolbert’s cabinet ministers survived the coup and its aftermath; including the Minister of Finance, future president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

In her solemn remarks, President Sirleaf said Liberians have drifted away from the values and spirit envisioned and implanted by Liberia’s forefathers over the years and have opted to practice hatred, lies, undermining, injustice, discrimination, wickedness towards their fellow compatriots.

“We hate each other, lie on each other, kill each other, act wicked to each other; but God in his bountiful love and mercy continues to give us the chance over and over to right the wrongs and make our country better,” President Sirleaf told the jammed packed church.

She stressed the need for Liberians to individually and collectively work for reconciliation which she indicated must come from the heart and stay with each of us; adding that each Liberian must look himself/herself in the mirror and say I have done my part to promote reconciliation.

“We have all individually and collectively sinned against God and must work to right the wrongs. I pray that God gives each of us the strength and courage to be a part of the righting the wrongs committed throughout our existence as a nation,” she stressed.

The Liberian leader emphasized that this was why government joined the mourners to pray to God and recommitted itself to go back to the thoughts of our forefathers to right the wrongs and make Liberia better. She thanked God for the 10-years of uninterrupted peace to which all Liberians have contributed.

Delivering a special sermon during the memorial service, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Liberia, Rev. Sando E. Townsend reflected and recounted the events leading to the coup and the death of the former officials, and indicated that the families have forgiven the perpetrators, but have not forgotten.

Rev. Townsend, son of E. Reginald Townsend, one of those killed on April 22, assured the mourning family members that man can only destroy the body of a person and not the soul. He assured that the souls of the formers officials live on even with their physical death and urged the bereaved families to remain hopeful that they will see their loved ones again on that great resurrection morning when Christ shall return to judge and living and the dead.

Speaking from the text Romans 8:31 and on the theme, “To God be the Glory”, he urged the mourners to give God the glory for the lives and contributions their fallen relatives made to the development of Liberia. He urged them to work with other compatriots for the betterment of the country. 

Ms. Cyvette Gibson, in a Statement of Remembrance, indicated that though their relatives died as government officials, their children, family members and friends most importantly remember them as fathers and loved ones and were keen on how all can now move forward as a nation.

The statement described the fallen officials as patriots who loved Liberia and instilled in them the love for country. “In recognition of their love for Liberia, and their legacies, we are determined to move forward in the spirit of peace, healing, and reconciliation. We are determined to fully participate in the rebuilding of Liberia and to actively contribute to Liberia rising once again,” the statement stressed.

It outlined several achievements of the Tolbert Administration and assured Liberians that they have forgiven those who took away the lives of their love ones, but cannot and will not forget. “In their memories as we forge ahead to re-establish Liberia’s prominence in the comity of nations, we must look within and heal ourselves and Liberia. We take seriously the peace and reconciliation proposal for Liberia and call on the Government of Liberia to treat it with the respect and seriousness it deserves,” the statement urged.

The Memorial Service, held under the theme, “We Will Remember Them,” was attended by President Sirleaf and several government officials, children, family members, friends and loved ones of the deceased, religious (Christian and Moslem) leaders, among others.

The 13 officials murdered on April 22, 1980 included: Cyril A. Bright, Joseph J.F. Chesson, Sr., C. Cecil Dennis, Jr., Richard A. Henries, Sr., Charles D. B. King and D. Franklin Neal, Sr.

Others were P. Clarence Parker III, James T. Philips, Jr., James A.A. Pierre, John W. F. Sherman, Frank J. Stewart, Sr., Frank E. Tolbert, Sr., and E. Reginald Townsend.

Also honored were President William R. Tolbert, Jr., Ex-Commander Spurgeon Capehart, Major General Emmett W. Cooper, Commander Varney E. Dempster, Captain Gabriel Moore, General Charles E. Railey, Jr., H. Carey Thomas, A. Benedict Tolbert, and Lieutenant “Railroad” Vesseley.