The National Association of University Women (NAUW) chartered its first international branch on the morning of Feb. 18 at William V.S. Tubman University (formerly named in 1978, William V.S. Tubman College of Technology), in Harper City, Liberia (West Africa).
Bettye J. Williams was one of a 10-member delegation who spent 12 days in the Republic of Liberia, which was colonized by freed American slaves in 1820 with the help of President James Monroe and the American Colonization Society. Other members traveling to Liberia were the national president, Dolores Y. Owens, Rachel Covington-Banks, and Rita Dunbar (New Jersey); Christiana Worthams and Clara Frost (Los Angeles); Pauline Chandler (New York); and Linda Jones, Cathine Gilchrist Scott, and Elsie White (South Carolina).
The United States delegation represented the mission and scope of the 102-year national organization (called College Alumnae Club), founded by Mary Church Terrell, Sara Winifred Brown, Nancy Fairfax Brown, and Mary F. Cromwell in Washington, D.C., at Howard University. Jewell Walker is the president of the Pine Bluff Branch. With 15 college-educated women in attendance on Feb. 8, 1945, the Pine Bluff Branch of NAUW was chartered on the campus of Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College (AM&N). The Pine Bluff Branch organizer and first president was Katie Jackson Pierre.
Elected as the national second vice president in 2010 during the Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C., Williams joined the Pine Bluff Branch in September 1985 where she has served as branch president twice (from 1989 to1990 and 2001 to 2003) and the sectional director of the South Central Section — Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee — from 2005-2009. Presently, she is the interim chair and professor of English in the Department of English, Theatre & Mass Communications at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in American Literature, African American Literature, Contemporary American Literature, and the American Novel.
Of significant delight to the NAUW delegation while traveling in Liberia was having an audience with Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the 24th president of Liberia. Awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen, Sirleaf and the previously named women activists were recognized for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. Given the opportunity to meet with Sirleaf in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Monrovia, Owens articulated the national goals of NAUW. Afterward, Sirleaf was presented a resplendent Liberty Bell with her name inscribed. About 700 miles away in Harper City, Liberia, Williams presented Harper City’s mayor, Regina Sampson, a proclamation from Mayor Carl A. Redus and the city of Pine Bluff. Following the plaque presentation, Sampson offered the traditional Grebo (the indigenous people of Maryland County) welcome of koala nuts, coconut squares, and raw cassava cubes with ground red hot pepper. At the same reception, Mr. Wurth, a teacher of Grebo at Tubman University (the only institution where Grebo is taught) sang the Liberian national anthem in his native tongue, Grebo. In Liberia, English is the official language, yet there are 31 individual languages. Of those, 30 are living languages and one is a second language without mother-tongue speakers.
On the morning of Feb. 18, the National Association of University Women chartered its first international branch at Tubman University. At the ritualistic ceremony where Owens presided and Williams gave the charge, Dr. Davis-Russell and 18 other college educated women became charter members of the Harper Maryland County Liberia Branch of the National Association of University Women. Dressed in all white for the ceremony and pinned with a green rosette on the left shoulder by the 10-member delegation from the United States, the 19 charter members introduced themselves and promised to help charter new branches in Monrovia and Robertsport (Cape Mount), Liberia as well as Nigeria and the Phillippines. The organizer of the newly chartered international branch, Davis is the first president of the Harper Maryland County Liberia Branch of NAUW. A reception followed the ceremony and featured traditional Liberian cuisine. The vice president for Institutional Advancement and Research, Rita Townsend, introduced the delegates from the United States to Tubman University’s administrators, faculty, and staff. The day ended with a gospel concert headlined by Minister Kanvee Gaines Adams, one of the top gospel recording artists in Liberia. Adams shared the trials and triumphs of her life through song to a packed auditorium in Harper’s City Hall. Supporting performers included the Ebenezer Baptist Church’s youth choir.
On Feb. 19 the international branch and the United States delegation had worship service at the Mount Scott United Methodist Church, founded in 1852. Rev. Anthony G. Diop was the senior pastor of the church and Tubman University’s Vice President of Student Affairs. At mid-afternoon, a potluck luncheon prepared by Russell-Davis and the Harper Maryland County Liberia Branch made for sumptuous eating. The day closed with a tour of Harper City, which included shopping at the local marketplace, serenading a car and motorcycle wedding party, and viewing the hilltop home of President William V.S. Tubman overlooking the Atlantic Ocean where enormous whales were seen at a distance.
The two-day trek from Harper City back to Monrovia was an opportunity for the delegation to see some of the more remote parts of Liberia. Near Monrovia, the American delegation sponsored a one-day professional development workshop for the 20 teachers at the Paynesville school and partnered with members of the African Community Exchange Board to provide more than 500 pounds of school supplies for the teachers at the Ann Sandell Demonstration School. Established in 1998, the school serves more than 1,097 underprivileged, pre-kindergarten through ninth-grade students — some of whom were orphaned by the civil war. The founder of the school is Leabeh Ghoko-Gbowee. Williams gave a 30-minute lecture on the literary journey of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a 19th Century poet who authored 13 books of verse, four novels, four collections of short stories, essays, correspondences, and unpublished plays and lyrics. The training seminar was coordinated by International/National Affairs Committee Chair, Linda P. Jones of Columbus, S.C., who was assisted by Rose Sherman of Liberia, the superintendent and fund-raiser, who affirmed “Each One, Teach One.”
Sirleaf suggested that the Unites States delegation visit Robertsport, the capital of Grand Cape Mount County in the western region of Liberia. Inhabited by 129,055 residents, Robertsport is a city sandwiched by lagoons, rivers, lakes, beaches, islands, virgin forests, mountains, creeks, and the Atlantic Ocean. Appointed by Sirleaf, Catherine Watson Khasu, the superintendent (meaning the governor) of Grand Cape Mount County, met the delegation at Mamba Point Hotel in Monrovia for the final dinner. She came with 10 stylist, formal outfits in various colors for each American delegate. Khasu is the first international member-at-large of the National Association of University Women. Promising to charter a branch in Robertsport, she plans to attend the 68th National Convention, in Atlanta, Ga., from July 31-Aug. 5.