Home > PublicationsEncyclopedia >  Chief Alfred Sam

CHIEF ALFRED SAM (ca. 1881–?).

Alfred C. "Chief" Sam inspired hundreds of African American Oklahomans to follow him back to their "ancestral home,"Africa. Expounding the virtues of Africa's Gold Coast with tales of diamonds lying on the ground after a rain, trees that produced bread, and sugar cane as large as stove pipes, Sam, who claimed to be an African chief, sold passage to Africa in large, camp-style meetings throughout Oklahoma in 1913. By purchasing twenty-five dollars worth of stock from Sam's Akim Trading Company, an African American could retain passage for the whole family to the Gold Coast of Africa. Sam claimed he had access to land that the group could colonize.

Hundreds of Oklahoma families not only purchased the stock but sold their possessions to take the trip. Government agencies from Oklahoma, the United States, and England discouraged the enterprise, and most African Americans newspapers attacked the chief and his scheme. Nevertheless, the adherents could not be swayed. One of the leaders in Sam's movement published the African Pioneer at the All-Black town of Boley to champion and defend the venture.

Chief Sam raised enough money to purchase the Liberia, an old, iron-hulled, screw-type German steamer, in New York. While Sam traveled there to purchase the vessel and have it repaired in Portland, Maine, approximately six hundred Oklahoma blacks established camps near Weleetka. There they prepared for the trek to Galveston to meet the ship. Unfortunately, the residents of these "Gold Coast camps" had to endure a cold Oklahoma winter while Chief Sam ran into economic and legal delays. Many left and joined hundreds of other Sam followers in Galveston to await passage. In June 1914 the Liberia arrived in Galveston. On August 20, 1914, sixty delegates chosen for the first trip sailed with Chief Sam.

After a stopover at Bridgetown, Barbados, the ship traveled on to Mayo Island. Before it left the island, British authorities detained it and rerouted it to Sierra Leone. There they investigated Sam and verified the vessel's ownership. This delay lasted forty-five days, during which Sam's contingent used up most of their provisions. When the group finally reached the Gold Coast, they were warmly welcomed. However, Africa and its culture confounded the immigrants. Many of them suffered and perished from sickness, others were discouraged by the primitive agriculture, and all believed they had been misled. The tribe or powerful families controlled the land and prohibited American ownership. Many of Sam's followers left and found work in the larger cities or migrated to Liberia. Eventually, a number of the travelers made it back to Oklahoma. Chief Sam's back-to-Africa movement consisted of that one, ill-fated trip. Sam moved to Liberia and spent the rest of his life as a cocoa buyer.

Larry O'Dell

See also: AFRICAN AMERICAN EXODUS TO CANADA, AFRICAN AMERICANS, BOLEY, NEWSPAPERS–AFRICAN AMERICAN, SEGREGATION, SENATE BILL ONE

Bibliography

William E. Bittle and Gilbert Geis, The Longest Way Home: Chief Alfred Sam's Back-to-Africa Movement (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1964).

J. P. Owens, Clearview (Okemah, Okla.: J. P. Owens, 1995).

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society. This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society and are held in the agency's Research Division Photograph Archives (unless otherwise stated).


Citation

The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, "Chief Alfred Sam," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org (accessed December 18, 2017).

About the Encyclopedia | Terms of Use | Using the Encyclopedia