William R. Tolbert Jr.

Tolbert & Wife / President Nixon


William Richard Tolbert, Jr. (May 13, 1913 – April 12, 1980) was president  of Liberia from 1971 to 1980.

Trained as a civil servant, he entered the country's House of   Representatives  in 1955 for the True Whig Party, then the only legal  party  in  the country.  He  was elected Vice president to William Tubman  in 1951 and served in that  position until Tubman's death in 1971.

Upon becoming president with Tubman's death, Tolbert initiated some liberal reforms and allowed the creation of an opposition party, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia, the first opposition in 125 years of Liberia's independence.

Though reelected in 1975, his government was criticized sharply   for failing to address the deep economic disparities between different sectors of the population, notably the Americo-Liberians, who had dominated the country since independence, and the various indigenous ethnic groups that constituted the majority of the population.

Tensions came to a head in April 1979, when hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of the capital, Monrovia, demonstrating against the sharp rise in the price of rice. Tolbert ordered his troops to fire on the demonstrators, and some seventy people were killed. Despite efforts to restore order, rioting ensued throughout Liberia, and attempts to quash the opposition by arresting its leaders failed. On April 12, 1980, Tolbert was overthrown by military mutineers in a coup d'état and was executed by being stabbed 15 times. The coup leader, Samuel Doe, who personally disemboweled Tolbert in his bed, then went on to execute many of Tolbert's officials, effectively ending Americo-Liberian rule.

Tolbert was also chairman of the Organisation of African Unity from July 1979 until he was killed in April 1980. He was a Freemason grand master and an elder in the Baptist church. An ordained Baptist minister, Tolbert became the first elected black president of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in 1965. He served as president of the BWA from 1965 to 1970.