The decades-long political unrest in the country of Liberia in western Africa has led to some of the most disturbing imagery captured in history. After years of rule from a one-party political system in a dual-society country – where the elite lived a charmed life, and everyone else suffered – a rebellion sprang up, which led to the Liberian coup d'état of 1980. Led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, the coup was a brutal takeover carried out by 17 non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia. President William R. Tolbert Jr. was killed in the Presidential palace while his cabinet was rounded up for trial.
The cabinet members were put on trial in a kangaroo court with no jurors. They were unsurprisingly all sentenced to death. This photo of the Liberian government execution, just moments before it took place, shows how public and fiercely personal the brutal executions were. The 1980 Liberian coup d'état results were broadcast on television for the rest of the country to witness. In the picture, a few of the cabinet members are mostly undressed as they were forced to parade naked through the streets before their public execution.
The execution of the Liberian cabinet members was only the beginning of what would be years of civil unrest and eventual war in Liberia. The picture lives on as a reminder of the horrifying places classism can lead.
The Men Executed Were Paraded Around Naked Before Their Deaths
Thirteen cabinet members were rounded up when Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe led his rebellion against President Tolbert. An additional 27 members of the government were also killed, but 14 cabinet members were given trials. However, the trials were really just five-man military tribunals led by the rebels, and all but one of the cabinet members were quickly sentenced to death. The former information minister, Johnny McClain, escaped execution because he was an indigenous Liberian, not an Americo-Liberian.
Some of the men were forced to walk naked and partially clothed to the beach where they were shot.
The Men Were Shot At Short Range On A Public Beach Before A New, Similar Regime Was Established
After storming the palace and killing off the majority of governmental leaders, Samuel K. Doe founded a new government called the People's Redemption Council (PRC). Before the rebellion, Doe was virtually unknown by the Liberian public. He was a low-ranking officer with no political training. Once in office, he grew paranoid and favored indigenous Liberians like himself, flipping the scales but essentially keeping classism alive in Liberia.
A Crowd Watched As The Cabinet Members, Many From Distinguished Liberian Families, Were Killed
People gathered to watch the execution, and despite the brutal cruelty of the display, many Liberians welcomed the regime change. The previous year, President Tolbert had proposed an increase in the price of rice. The Liberian people were outraged and appalled by the proposed increase; a peaceful protest was planned, but it quickly escalated. 2,000 people grew to 10,000, and riots and looting broke out, causing more than $40 million worth of damage. The event was dubbed the "Rice Riots," and they were the beginning of the end for Tolbert.
The Execution Was Broadcast Live On Television – And You Can See That Video Here
Samuel K. Doe gave a public press conference right before the executions, which were aired on television. Doe told reporters: "The revolution which brought down the Tolbert government was motivated by the sufferings of the Liberian people throughout our country. Things were fixed in such a way that only a very few people enjoyed everything."