The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
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.
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).
Browse By TopicAfrican Americans
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Chief Alfred Sam,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH040.
© Oklahoma Historical Society