College of West Africa
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The College of West Africa is a Methodist high school in Monrovia, Liberia. The school was opened in 1839 (as the "Monrovia Seminary"), making it one of the oldest European-style schools in Africa. It has produced many of Liberia's leaders and includes among its alumni Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected as president in an African state, and Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai.
The College of West Africa's main building is named in memory of Melville B. Cox, a Methodist missionary from Edenton Street United Methodist Church, who was a founder of the College. A historic stained glass window in the College's auditorium reads: "Though a thousand fall, let not Africa be given up". The Cox family was active in the Methodist Society from its beginning. In March 1821 Melville Cox was licensed to preach by the Kennebec District Conference, and received his first appointment in 1822. Ill health, however, forced Cox to return to Maine in 1825.
Cox moved south in November 1826 to avoid the Maine winter and hopefully recover his health. He preached off and on until 1828, when he married and located. During the next two years he was editor of The Itinerant in Baltimore, until his wife's death in December 1830. Cox returned to the ministry, although his health was still fragile. By mid-1831 Cox had become interested in missions. The Methodist Episcopal Church had formed a Missionary Society in 1819, but no suitable foreign missionary had yet been found. Cox offered himself to Bishop Elijah Hedding for the South American field. Instead, Hedding asked if he would go to Liberia, established on Africa's west coast for freed American slaves.
Cox sailed from Norfolk on November 6, 1832, arriving in Monrovia on March 8, 1833. Melville B. Cox of Maine was the first Methodist missionary to Liberia. His vision for his work in Liberia included establishing a mission house, a school, a seminary for young Christian converts, and churches. His accomplishment to realizing these dreams was the purchasing of a house that had formerly been the property of the Basel Missionary Society; and getting the Methodist Church established in Liberia as a branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the U.S. He held camp meeting, started regular worship and Sunday school, and developed mission strategies all within a few weeks of his arrival, but his health was simply not up to the task, and he died of malaria on July 21, 1833 after three months of decline.
Although his career was painfully brief, Cox's story inspired many in the early missions movement. Before he sailed for Liberia, Cox told a friend that should he die in Africa, the friend should write his epitaph. What, asked the friend, should the epitaph say? Cox replied, "Let a thousand die before Africa be given up."
In 1816 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church institutionalized the course of study for candidates to the ministry. . . persons desiring to be admitted into full connection would have to complete the course of study. It therefore became imperative that a conference seminary be established to meet this mandate. Thus the Monrovia Seminary was established (renamed College of West Africa in later years) in 1839. The Rev. Jabez A. Burton was commissioned the Seminary's first principal immediately after its establishment; and served until his death in August 1842.
The Rev. Alexander P. Camphor, was appointed Principal in 1896. At the end of his first year of administration, he began the re-organization of the seminary to eventually include a high school. In 1897 Camphor presented his plans to the Liberian Annual conference where it carried a majority vote for the transformation of the Monrovia Seminary to the College of West Africa with the following as its charter:- that it be the one central and leading school of all Methodist educational institutions; providing degree granting courses in ministerial training whilst also providing a high school education; that dormitory facilities be established for male and female students.
For the next ten years Rev. Camphor worked to implement this new plan as voted upon at the 1897 session of the Liberian Annual Conference. His first project in this new plan was the erection of the school building to be named the Cox Memorial Auditorium - (for Melville B. Cox, in observance of the Methodist Mission work he started.) In 1904, by an act of the Liberian Legislature, the college was officially recognized and confirmed as the College of West Africa.
By 1925, as a result of the grave personnel and financial difficulties, and political interference, the College was forced to close its collegiate department, but continued to function as a secondary school with the appointment of the Rev. R. L. Embree as its new president. Rev. Embree reorganized the curriculum and programs of the school to continue the college preparatory courses, even though it was now a high school. He continued the building project started by Rev. Camphor. As a result of his efforts, grounds-breaking ceremonies were held on May 25, 1927. Construction was completed and ready for dedication on March 7, 1933.
The name “College of West Africa” was retained because of its charter to serve as a degree-granting institution - a mandate it later carried out, granting associate degrees in Business and Finance.
The school is 100% owned and operated by the Liberian Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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