Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Birthday to African American Officers in Liberia: A Pestiferous Rotation, 1910–1942 (Potomac Books, 2018) by Brian G. Shellum.
About the Book:
African American Officers in Liberia tells the story of seventeen African American officers who trained, reorganized, and commanded the Liberian Frontier Force from 1910 to 1942. In this West African country founded by freed black American slaves, African American officers performed their duties as instruments of imperialism for a country that was, at best, ambivalent about having them serve under arms at home and abroad.
The United States extended its newfound imperial reach and policy of “Dollar Diplomacy” to Liberia, a country it considered a U.S. protectorate. Brian G. Shellum explores U.S. foreign policy toward Liberia and the African American diaspora, while detailing the African American military experience in the first half of the twentieth century. Shellum brings to life the story of the African American officers who carried out a dangerous mission in Liberia for an American government that did not treat them as equal citizens in their homeland, and he provides recognition for their critical role in preserving the independence of Liberia.
“African American Officers in Liberia should be read by anyone interested in the creation of effective armed forces in corrupt ‘Third World’ countries, and for the light it throws on America’s quasi-official protectorate in Liberia as well as on the careers of black officers in the segregated army, two of whom, Young and Davis, were outstanding soldiers.” —Strategy Page
“U.S. military history buffs may be interested in a new book, African American Officers in Liberia: A Pestiferous Rotation, 1910-1942 by Bryan Shellum… A copy of African-American Officers should be sent to President Trump to bolster his awareness of the role of the US military in ‘shithole’ countries.” —Our Time Press
“I’ve been a student of the American military for nearly three decades, but until I picked up African American Officers in Liberia: A Pestiferous Rotation, 1910-1942, I didn’t know that for several decades in the early 20th century, the United States Army had a training, advising and leading mission in Liberia. What’s more, most of the officers who carried out the mission were black Americans. Brian G. Shellum, a retired Army tank and intelligence officer, does a workmanlike job of relating this neglected tale.” —New York Times
“A retired Army officer looks at ‘a monumental piece of missing American history’: Why 17 black officers were ‘instruments of imperialism’ while training forces in West Africa. How’d it go? ‘Pestiferous’ is a clue.” —Air Force Times
“Military historian Brian Shellum doesn’t paint the full panorama but focuses on a sequence of events involving black U.S. Army officers—a rarity before World War II—delegated to advise and command Liberia’s military… African American Officers in Liberia is lively true story of black Americans given unusual responsibility at a time when civil rights was barely a dream.” — =Shepherd Express
“The United States’ relationship with Liberia is the closest to that with a colony in American history. A little-known aspect of this history is the training, equipping, and leading of the Liberian Frontier Force by the US Army from 1910 to 1942… A lot of the lessons the officers in Liberia learned would resonate with FAOs serving in developing nations today.” —Modern War Institute
“Brian Shellum, author, army veteran and retired government intelligence officer, has spent the last 22 years of his life saluting the 178,975 Black American military volunteers African American Officers in Liberia whose dedication helped enact legislation that permitted African-American to enlist as regulars in the nation’s army… Shellum has written three books on the treatment of black soldiers in the 20th century and the evolution as political tides turned and social barriers were broken. The University of Nebraska Press just released his third book, African American Officers in Liberia, A Pestiferous Rotation, 1910-1942.” —The Skagway News
On the blog:
A Word from the Author:
It has been an exciting and eventful period since I published African American Officers in Liberia: A Pestiferous Rotation a year ago. My first book signing after its release was on August 7, 2018 in Skagway, Alaska, about as far away from Africa as one can get. I was in Skagway giving a talk at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park about the service of Company L, Twenty-Fourth Infantry in Skagway from 1899 to 1902. They, like the officers in Liberia, were African American soldiers selflessly serving their country in a far-away place.
Since then, I have experienced several firsts with African American Officers in Liberia. I was gratified to see my first review in the New York Times Book Review written by Tom Ricks in November 2018. I was also honored to see my writing about Charles Young in Liberia transformed into works of art. I worked with Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi and her talented Women of Color Quilters Network to transform history into artwork in the March 2019 opening of “Yours for Race and Country: Reflections on the Life of Colonel Young” at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio.
I ended the year where it began: in Skagway, Alaska. I spent a month from July to August 2019 as a writer-in-residence with Alderworks Alaska completing the research and writing for my next book on the Buffalo Soldiers who served in Skagway. This is yet another untold story of African American soldiers serving a nation that was ambivalent about having them serve under arms at home or abroad. Whether in Africa or Alaska, these soldiers served proudly.