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Lesson: Liberia and the United States
Lesson Snapshot

Learning objectives
Students will understand how relations between countries change over time in response to both domestic and international pressures. They will think critically about factors affecting U.S. foreign policy toward Liberia and analyze the comparative weight of historic ties, historic debts, pragmatic political alliances, and human rights.

Grade level



NCSS standards

Time estimate
Two 45-minute class periods, with homework

  • Part 1: Introduce history of Liberia and Liberian-U.S. relationships
  • Part 2: Explore the weight of moral considerations in foreign policy

What you'll need (see Resources for links)

Lesson Plan
How has the special relationship between the United States and Liberia shaped U.S. foreign policy over time?

Part I: The Founding of Liberia and Its First Century

Preparation: Before beginning this lesson, have students read the Global Connections essay "The Lone Star: The Story of Liberia" and the Voices on Liberia excerpts from immigrant letters and early colonizers' reports.

Video clip: Show the first 15 minutes of the video, which describe the American Colonization Society and its role in sending free Blacks and freed slaves to colonize Liberia.

  • Discuss the reasons for American colonization of Liberia. You may encourage discussion with questions such as the following:
    • Why was Liberia seen as a political haven for Blacks?
    • Why did free Black men and women in the United States want to go to Liberia?
    • Why did freed slaves want to go there?
    • What religious reasons did people have for emigrating to Liberia?
    • Who lived in the area that became Liberia when the first ship of American immigrants arrived?
    • Who were the members of the American Colonization Society, and what were their reasons for sending Blacks to Africa?

  • Divide the class into small groups. Tell students that they are to imagine themselves meeting at the beginning of the year 1900. As a new century begins, they have gathered as separate groups (Americo-Liberians, indigenous Liberians, or members of a fictitious white American society called the Champions of Liberia) to discuss the future of Liberia and the relationship between Liberia and the United States. Assign each group an identity and have them explore the following questions:
    • In what part of Liberia do you live?
    • What are some of the daily events in your community?
    • Describe each of the other groups. What are they like? How do they treat you? What languages do the other groups speak? What religions do other groups belong to?
    • How do these differences affect you?
    • What kind of contact do you have with the other groups?
    • How do you feel about each of the other groups?
    • What is your group's role in Liberia?
    • What should be the other groups' place in Liberia?
    • Liberia has now been independent for more than half a century. At the end of the 19th century, how is Liberia changing?

  • After allowing time for discussion, ask each group to have their designated recorder report to the class on their conclusions.

In preparation for Part II, make the assignments noted below.

Part II: Foreign Policy and Human Rights

Preparation: The assignment below should be done the day before the classroom discussion.

Tell students that many former colonial powers, such as Britain and France, acknowledge a special relationship with their former colonies. Divide the class into three groups to research the time periods from 1944 to 1980, 1980 to 1990, and 1990 to the present. For homework, ask students to read "Liberia and the U.S.: A Complex Relationship" and the Congressional Research Service article, and to research Internet resources on aspects of the U.S.-Liberia relationship during the 20th century so that they can report back to the class the next day. Students can start their research with the resources suggested below. Additional resources are listed in the Resources.

Questions for all groups:

  • Who were the presidents of Liberia? Were they Americo-Liberian or indigenous Liberian?
  • How did the United States support the Liberian government? Provide details.
  • How did Liberia support the United States? Provide details.
  • What was the human rights situation like in Liberia?
    • Was there freedom of the press and freedom of speech?
    • Was political opposition tolerated?
    • Did rule of law prevail or not prevail?

Suggested resources:


  • Begin class with student reports on research they have done.

  • Video clip: Show the segment of the video describing U.S. policy toward Liberia after 1980, beginning with Reagan welcoming Samuel Doe to the U.S.

    U.S. foreign aid to Liberia

    • Liberia received $41 million in U.S. aid from 1946 to 1961, ranking fourth in sub-Saharan Africa, after Ethiopia, Zaire, and Sudan.
    • From 1962 to 1980, Liberia received $278 million in economic and military aid. Figuring the aid on a per capita basis, this gave Liberia the greatest level of aid in Africa.
    • U.S. aid to Liberia totaled $402 million between 1981 and 1985, more than during the entire preceding century.
    • Today, Liberia receives only non-governmental aid and no direct government aid. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) requested approximately $6.5 million for 2002 and $6.227 million for 2003 to support health care, food security, and election monitoring and support.

    Casualties of war
    A civil war in Liberia began in about 1989 and lasted through 1996. Charles Taylor, now the elected president of Liberia, led one of the many armed factions.

    • All sides committed atrocities during the long and bloody civil war, including rape, mutilation, and murder of civilians.
    • More than 150,000 people died in the war.
    • About two-thirds of Liberia's three million people fled their homes.
    • Today, Liberia is again in the throes of civil war, with the current insurgency led by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

  • Explain to students that foreign policy is carried out through the use of a wide variety of tools, including military, economic, and political actions. Display this short list of tools on the blackboard or overhead projector:
    • Direct military intervention by U.S. forces
    • Aid to military forces of Liberia
    • Economic aid to the government of Liberia
    • Economic aid delivered through non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
    • Withdrawal of U.S. ambassador
    • Trade embargo
    • Participation in international peacekeeping force

  • Divide students into small groups. Tell them that their mission is to prepare policy recommendations for a special State Department task force on Liberia. They will have to consider the United States' historic ties to Liberia and the current situation. Each group must address the following:
    • What is the relative importance for the United States of economic development of Liberia, support of democratic structures of government, elimination of corruption in government, and support of human rights? What other priorities do you wish to add? Be prepared to explain why you have assigned these priorities.
    • What specific foreign policy tools do you recommend using in Liberia? Why?

Assessment options

  • After small group discussions in Part I and Part II, have students present their varying positions to the class.
  • Tell students to write a one-page summary of their small-group discussion.
  • Tell students to write a two-page essay arguing either for or against the existence or continuance of a special relationship between the United States and Liberia.
  • Tell students to write a two-page essay outlining their recommendations for a U.S. foreign policy supportive of human rights in Liberia.


  • How well can the student describe the special relationship between the United States and Liberia?
  • How well can the student describe U.S. foreign policy toward Liberia in the last half of the 20th century and the human rights situation in Liberia during that period?
  • To what extent did the student participate in classroom discussion?


Core Resources:

Internet Resources:

NCSS standards

Time, continuity, and change

  • Apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity.
  • Apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.

Individuals, groups, and institutions

  • Apply concepts such as role, status, and social class in describing the connections and interactions of individuals, groups, and institutions in society.

Global connections

  • Analyze or formulate policy statements demonstrating an understanding of concerns, standards, issues, and conflicts related to universal human rights.

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