Celebration of Lott Cary unites Charles City, Liberian natives
Contributions made to the country of Liberia by former Charles City missionary Lott Cary nearly 200 years ago continue to impact the nation today. And on July 11, more than 30 alumni from a school that resulted in his work celebrated in Charles City.
Saturday morning’s program brought more than 200 attendees into the auditorium of Charles City’s Government and School Board Administration building. The gathering was part of the 17th reunion of the Lott Carey Alumni Association of the United States.
Director of the Richard M. Bowman Center for Local History Judy Ledbetter provided an educational background on Cary’s importance and journey. According to the historian, many facts depicted in Cary’s life growing up were “slightly” exaggerated, but reemphasizing the importance he played in Liberia becoming a nation.
“No matter if you said he was the first missionary or African-American missionary to go abroad, Lott Cary’s contributions to the nation were undoubtedly impactful,” said Ledbetter.
She continued, mentioning how certain things came to pass, such as Cary’s last name spelled two different ways and how he inherited money from his father after his death.
Cary worked from 1804 in a tobacco warehouse until purchasing his freedom in 1818, according to Ledbetter. From there, he and his family left in 1821 for Africa, arriving in Sierra Leone before settling in what is now known as Liberia. Among the recognizable achievements by the missionary include establishing a church in 1825 and implementing the first educational system. Despite Cary’s early passing in 1828 due to a gunpowder explosion accident, the foundation was set for future generations. In 1839, a stone sanctuary was constructed inside the church he first founded. In 1908, the Lott Carey School was founded to educate natives of that land. Both structures are still standing to this day.
Since its establishment in 1998 in North Carolina, the Lott Carey Alumni Association of the United States has gathered once a year to celebrate the missionary and his impact. The association is comprised of former students of the school in Liberia who now reside in the United States. Many of the alum return to their home country in efforts to promote education and reiterate the importance Cary made.
“I wouldn’t call him [Cary] a slave; he’s a master because he built lives,” said Varmuyah Kromah, President of the Lott Cary Alumni Association. “The idea of coming to visit his home was something we had to do.
“Cary was not just a reverend, but he was a doctor as well,” continued Kromah. “There is a town in Liberia named after him, as well as a street in the capital and a mission.”
Kromah went on, saying how students who graduate from the educational facility in Liberia named after Cary go onto successful careers.
“That school has produced doctors, lawyers, engineers, communication leaders, and educators,” continued the president of the alumni association. “That school has provided everything you need to survive in today’s society.
“We are not only happy, but we are blessed by this county that he came from to send him to Liberia,” added Kromah. “We are proud of the Rev. Lott Cary.”
The program unified entities both locally and globally through song, feasting, and education, something Kromah emphasized at the conclusion of the program.
“He is a man that has made a difference to those in his homeland in the United States and only expanded it through missions to Liberia.”