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CSUEB alumnus recounts his time as a Liberian refugee

Man smiling in an office.

Man smiling in an office.

  • March 23, 2012 5:00am

It wasn’t all that relatively long ago, about 200 years, that Liberia was set up as a colony of freedom and liberty by free ex-slaves from the United States. Almost as soon as it was set up, the same sins that the freed men and women had escaped from, a cultural and ethnic imperialism, were replicated in Liberia against the indigenous population. Charles Jackson has lived through the culmination of that history, and he worked tirelessly for years to bring that reality to the fore.

Born in Liberia’s capital city Monrovia, Jackson has lived through ethnic tensions, coups, assassinations, and political executions. The violent ascension to power of Charles Taylor in the late 1980s was a turning point for Jackson, “Initially, when Mr. Taylor launched his rebellion we were told that it was meant to bring about a political change, massive economic development, rule of law and freedom of the press, etc. But it turned out that it was just a propaganda ploy to attain political leadership...”

With Liberia deep into its first civil war, Jackson and his associates, driven by “the historical fact that all wars never end on the battle field, but in the conference room,” launched the New Democrat newspaper to promote social justice issues and to create awareness for the international community.

Eventually a fragile peace was brokered, but only by intimidation. Jackson recounted a story where in mid-1995, General Isaac Saye Mussah, a representative of Mr. Taylor on the transitional government, stormed the newspaper offices and threatened more violence if the New Democrat continued to publish news that the general referred to as ‘being critical’ of Mr. Taylor. Eventually the peace was broken, and in 1996 Liberia was plunged into another civil war.

With life becoming increasingly dangerous, Jackson fled to Ghana with tens of thousands of other Liberian refugees. The sense of human suffering followed Jackson throughout his exile, and he established a newspaper for the refugees reporting on their struggles. His efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2004 Stanford University awarded him the John S. Knight Fellowship.

Jackson’s keen sense of justice has followed him to his new home in San Francisco. Before his residency in the U.S. was assured, he promised himself that he would provide pro bono services to his fellow African immigrants if granted asylum. Jackson was granted political asylum in the U.S. and earned his paralegal certificate from California State University, East Bay. He is currently fulfilling his promise by working as a paralegal for the African Advocacy Network, which helps African immigrants to the United States find their way through the complicated U.S. legal system.

Watch Jackson talk more about his story here.


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