Alfred C. “Chief” Sam influenced several hundreds of Black Oklahomans to take a chance and follow him back to their “ancestral home,” Africa. He persuaded the Africans to believe that once they arrived in Africa they would find the Coast filled with diamonds lying on the ground after rain, trees that produced bread, and sugar cane as large as stove pipes.
Chief Sam who proclaimed himself as an African Chief sold passage to Africa during camp-style meetings throughout Oklahoma. African-Americans were required to spend twenty-five dollars in stock from Sam’s Akim Trading Company, and they would secure passage for their whole family to the Gold Coast of Africa. Chief Sam claimed to have access to land the group could colonize.
Hundreds of Black families purchased stock and those who did not have the money saved, sold their possessions to take the trip. Government agencies from Oklahoma, the United States, and England discouraged the enterprise, and most Black 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 trip.
Enough money was raised for Chief Sam to purchase the Liberia, an old, iron-hulled, screw-type German steamer, in New York. While he 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. However, while Chief Sam encounter economic and legal delays many of the travelers had to endure a rough and cold winter. Many left and joined hundreds of other Chief Sam’s 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 having to make a stop at Bridgetown, Barbados, the ship traveled on to Mayo Island, but before it left the island, British authorities detained it and rerouted it to Sierra Leone. There authorities investigated Sam and verified the vessel’s ownership. The delay lasted forty-five days, during which Chief Sam’s contingent used up most of their provisions. When the group finally reached the Gold Coast, they were warmly welcomed. However, some newcomers succumbed to malaria, and Chief Sam’s promises of free land for colonization were challenged by the African rulers who prohibited foreign ownership of their land. Soon a number of Sam’s followers became disillusioned with the Gold Coast and left to find work elsewhere. A handful of Chief Sam’s followers found a way back to Oklahoma.
Chief Sam sold the Liberia, abandoning the remaining investors who were awaiting their voyage to Africa. Many accounts indicate that Chief Sam continued his career as a trader, returning to North America and dying sometime in the 1930s.