Alfred Sam was a mysterious figure from West Africa who arrived in America to spearhead what became a failed back-to-Africa movement in 1914. Although he claimed to be a chief from a Gold Coast royal lineage, Sam, was twice accused of fraud and many who invested into his venture lost everything.
Sam was born in the West Akim district of what is now known as Ghana some time in 1880. He was a trader of rubber and other goods, and arrived to America around 1914 to preach the virtues of African-Americans returning to their “ancestral land” and leading the charge. Sam was accused of fraud twice in his time by the United States and United Kingdom and was cleared each time.
His quest to lead the emigration of American Blacks back to Africa came with the promise of fertile lands and riches, and encouraged them to offer a $25 investment in his Akim Trading Company – a steep cost for many poor Black residents at the time. Because his promises were that enticing, many of the residents sold all of their possessions just to join in the quest.
By August 1914 and after months of planning, 60 Black men and women set sail on the S.S. Liberia from Galveston, Texas en route to West Africa. Along the way, the ship was detained in Barbados and re-routed to Sierra Leone, a costly diversion that led to many passengers on the ship to exhaust their food and supplies. Further, some passengers succumbed to diseases such as malaria in the long trek.
In 1915, the Liberia landed in Saltpond and the passengers were initially welcomed but soon after, it became clear that Sam’s promises of open land were false. African rulers at the time were not keen to let foreigners inhabit their lands so many found their way back to America while others spread across Liberia and other African nations.
Sam, who died sometime in the ’30’s, reportedly returned to trading and became a notable cocoa buyer but not much of his life after the failed emigration is readily known.
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