There's an episode of the classic (if underappreciated) HBO sketch comedy program Mr. Show in which the state of Mississippi makes reparations for slavery by giving every African American in the state "Mississippi fun bucks," redeemable for "any one-way ticket out of Mississippi on the Mississippi Fun Bus."
I was reminded of this as I listened to Glenn Beck tell his radio audience today that the founding of Liberia in the 1820s was evidence that the antebellum United States was not "an oppressive country":
You have to love Beck's approach to history. Why did early-nineteenth century African Americans emigrate to Africa? "Because they wanted to go back to Africa." And they apparently were driven by an urge to spread their love of America across the world. It's as simple as that! For those of us interested in something more than a second-grade understanding of American history, let's look into this a little more deeply.
The founding of Liberia was due in large part to the American Colonization Society. The Library of Congress explains why the society was formed, and why so many African Americans signed on for the adventure:
The roots of the colonization movement date back to various plans first proposed in the eighteenth century. From the start, colonization of free blacks in Africa was an issue on which both whites and blacks were divided. Some blacks supported emigration because they thought that black Americans would never receive justice in the United States. Others believed African-Americans should remain in the United States to fight against slavery and for full legal rights as American citizens. Some whites saw colonization as a way of ridding the nation of blacks, while others believed black Americans would be happier in Africa, where they could live free of racial discrimination. Still others believed black American colonists could play a central role in Christianizing and civilizing Africa.
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants.
So there's debate over the motivations behind the American Colonization Society's push to colonize Africa, but the society nonetheless reached the conclusion that African Americans could only truly be free if they were not in America. And there's no doubt that, at the time of Liberia's founding, free African Americans in the United States could not exercise their liberty.
That explanation, however, acknowledges the reality that America has a troubled past that is marred with the scars and stains of racial oppression, and such realities don't mesh with Beck's fantasyland version of history in which America could do no wrong, even when it did.