Brian Sekelsky posted an articleA look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded — and the world into which it emerged see more
A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged.
Research and editing by Jake Arce, Orrin Luc, and Steven Boyd Saum
Map images throughout from 1966 map of Peace Corps in the World. Courtesy Library of Congress.
For the Peace Corps community, 1961 is a year that holds singular significance. It is the year in which the agency was created by executive order; legislation was signed creating congressional authorization and funding for the Peace Corps; and, most important, that the first Volunteers trained and began to serve in communities around the world.
But the Peace Corps did not emerge in a vacuum. The year before, 1960, became known as the Year of Africa — with 17 nations on that continent alone achieving independence. Winds of change and freedom were blowing.
So were ominous gales of the Cold War — roaring loud with nuclear tests performed by the United States and Soviet Union. Or howling through a divided Europe, when in the middle of one August night East German soldiers began to deploy concrete barriers and miles of razor wire to make the Berlin Wall.
In May 1961, as the first Peace Corps Volunteers were preparing to begin training, across the southern United States the Freedom Riders embarked on a series of courageous efforts to end segregation on interstate transport. This effort in the epic struggle for a more just and equitable society was often met with cruelty and violence.
Outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces that the United States has severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.
France holds referendum on independence of Algeria: 70% vote in favor.
Charlayne Hunter, left, and Hamilton Holmes become the first Black students to enroll at University of Georgia. Hunter aspires to be a journalist, Holmes a doctor. White students riot, trying to drive out Hunter and Holmes. A decade before, Horace Ward, who is also Black, unsuccessfully sought admission to the law school.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault indeed goes on to become a journalist and foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, CNN, and the Public Broadcasting Service.
Hamilton Holmes goes on to become the first African-American student to attend the Emory University School of Medicine, where he earns an M.D. in 1967, and later serves as a professor of orthopedics and associate dean.
President Eisenhower’s farewell address. Warns of the increasing power of a “military-industrial complex.”
REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Patrice Lumumba, who had led his nationalist party to victory in 1960 and was assessed by the CIA to be “another Castro,” is assassinated — though this won’t be known for weeks.
JFK’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you ...”
Read annotations on the address 60 years later in our winter 2021 edition.
JFK asks Sargent Shriver to form a presidential task force “to report how the Peace Corps should be organized and then to organize it.”
Shriver taps Harris Wofford to coordinate plans.
ANGOLA: Start of fighting to gain independence from Portuguese colonial rule. February 4 will come to be marked as liberation day.
State Department colleagues Bill Josephson and Warren Wiggins deliver a paper to Shriver they call “The Towering Task.”
It lays out ideas for establishing a Peace Corps on a big, bold scale. Within three weeks, Shriver lands a report on JFK’s desk, saying with go-ahead, “We can be in business Monday morning.”
Debut appearance by the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool
USSR launches Venera 1 — first craft to fly past Venus.
Aretha Franklin releases first studio album: “Aretha with the Ray Bryant Combo.”
Executive Order 10924: JFK establishes the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis.
He says, “It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.”
JFK announces Sargent Shriver will serve as first Director of the Peace Corps.
Executive order 10925: creates President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Government contractors must “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” First use of phrase “affirmative action” in executive order.
Bill Moyers, a 26-year-old legislative assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, takes on responsibilities as special consultant to the Peace Corps. The project, Moyers believes, shows “America as a social enterprise ... of caring and cooperative people.”
ALGERIA: Cease-fire takes effect in War of Independence from France.
23rd Amendment ratified. Allows residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections for the first time.
Trial of the century — of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution of the Jewish question” — begins in Jerusalem.
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes first human being to travel into space. In Vostok I, he completes an orbit of the Earth.
CUBA: U.S.-backed invasion at Bay of Pigs attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro. Invading troops surrender in less than 24 hours after being pinned down and outnumbered.
Sargent Shriver embarks on a “Round the World” trip to pitch the Peace Corps to global leaders. With him: Harris Wofford, Franklin Williams, and Ed Bayley.
They visit Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
SIERRA LEONE gains independence following over 150 years’ British colonial rule. Milton Margai serves as prime minister until his death in 1964.
World Wildlife Fund for Nature established in Europe. Focuses on environmental preservation and protection of endangered species worldwide.
Freedom Riders: Civil rights activist James Farmer organizes series of protests against segregation policies on interstate transportation in southern U.S. Buses carrying the Freedom Riders are firebombed, riders attacked by KKK and police, and riders arrested.
Four hundred federal marshals are then sent out to enforce desegregation.
First U.S. astronaut flies into space: Alan Shepard Jr. on Freedom 7.
VIETNAM: JFK approves orders to send 400 special forces and 100 other military advisers to train groups to fight Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam.
First Peace Corps placement test administered
Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms Shriver as Director of the Peace Corps.
Dear Peace Corps Volunteer: First Volunteers receive letters from President Kennedy inviting them to join the new Peace Corps.
Space race: Addressing joint session of Congress, JFK says: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who has ruled since 1930, is assassinated following internal armed resistance against his oppressive regime.
SOUTH AFRICA: Following a white-only referendum, the government of the Union of South Africa leaves the British Commonwealth and becomes an independent republic.
JFK meets Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over two days in Vienna. “Worst thing in my life,” JFK tells a New York Times reporter. “He savaged me.”
ETHIOPIA: In the Karakore region, a magnitude 6.5 earth-quake strikes. Thirty people die.
Peace Corps has received “11,000 completed applications” in the first few months, Shriver tells Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Training begins for Peace Corps Volunteers for Tanganyika I and Colombia I at universities and private agencies in New Jersey, Texas, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.
Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom to support human rights and promote global justice and freedom.
Arkansas Democrat Sen. William Fulbright, skeptical of Peace Corps’ effectiveness, is cited in The New York Times as calling for a budget one-fourth the amount requested.
Sargent Shriver testifies in the House of Representatives and faces hostile GOP questioning. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Fulbright-led Foreign Relations Committee votes 14–0 to authorize the Peace Corps with the full $40 million in funding requested.
Barack Obama born in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 2008 he becomes first African American president and 44th president of the United States.
Vostok 2: Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov becomes second human to orbit the Earth — and first in space for more than one day.
JFK press conference: “We have an opportunity if the amount requested by the Peace Corps is approved by Congress, of having 2,700 Volunteers serving the cause of peace in fiscal year 1962.” By the end of 1962, there will be 2,940 Volunteers serving.
Berlin Wall: In the middle of the night, East German soldiers begin stringing up some 30 miles ofbarbed wire and start enforcing the separation between East and West Berlin.
Charter for the Alliance for Progress signed in Uruguay, to bolster U.S. ties with Latin America. JFK compares it to the Marshall Plan, but the funding is nowhere near that scale.
KENYA: Anti-colonial activist Jomo Kenyatta released from prison after serving nearly nine years. In 1964 he becomes president of Kenya.
Senate passes the Peace Corps Act.
Rose Garden send-off: President Kennedy hosts a ceremony for the first groups of Volunteers departing for service in Ghana and Tanganyika.
After a 23-hour charter Pan Am flight from Washington, 51 Volunteers land in Accra, Ghana, to begin their service as teachers.
In Atlanta, Georgia, nine Black children begin classes at four previously all-white high schools. The city’s public schools had been segregated for more than a century.
ERITREA: War of Independence begins with Battle of Adal, when Hamid Idris Awate and companions fire shots against the occupying Ethiopian army and police.
Foreign Assistance Act enacted, reorganizing U.S. programs to create the new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which officially comes into being in November.
Drawing a bright line, official policy declares Peace Corps will not be affiliated in any way with intelligence or espionage.
First group of 62 Volunteers arrive in Bogotá, Colombia, aboard a chartered Avianca flight. They are referred to as “los hijos de Kennedy”—Kennedy’s children.
House passes the Peace Corps Act 288–97.
United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in a plane crash en route to a peacekeeping mission in the Congo. He is posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
House and Senate bills reconciled: JFK signs the Peace Corps Act into law. The mandate: “promote world peace and friendship.”
First group of 44 Volunteers arrive in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. They include surveyors, geologists, and civil engineers to work with local technicians to build roads.
Postcard from Nigeria: Volunteer Margery Michelmore sends a postcard to her boyfriend describing her first impressions of the city of Ibadan, calling conditions “primitive.” The card doesn’t make it stateside. Nigerian students mimeograph and distribute it widely on campus; it is front-page news in Nigeria and beyond. Michelmore cables Shriver that it would be best if she were removed from Nigeria. She is.
Jets vs. Sharks: Premiere of film adaptation of musical “West Side Story.” A hit at the box office, it will win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Doomsday Device: Soviet Union tests the Tsar Bomba, largest explosion ever created by humankind. Its destructive capabilities make it too catastrophic for wartime use. International condemnation ensues. U.S. has begun its own underground testing.
GHANA: U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth visits to meet with President Kwame Nkrumah.
World Food Programme is established as a temporary United Nations effort. The first major crisis it meets: Iran’s 1962 earthquake. In 2020 its work is recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Postcard postscript: Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa gives a warm welcome to the second group of Peace Corps Volunteers.
Ernie Davis of Syracuse University becomes the first Black player to win college football’s Heisman Trophy. Leukemia will tragically cut his life short 18 months later.
TANGANYIKA declares independence from the British Commonwealth. In 1964 country name becomes Tanzania.
Executive Order 10980: JFK establishes Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, to examine discrimination against women and how to eliminate it. Issues addressed include equal pay, jury service, business ownership, and access to education.
500+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika, and Pakistan. An additional 200+ Americans are in training in the United States.
First African American to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice see more
First African American to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice — and the first Black man to lead any division at Justice, period.
Photo Courtesy Yale Law School
Drew S. Days III was appointed to the Department of Justince in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter. He later served as solicitor general of the United States under President Bill Clinton. Gentle, courageous, and kind, he devoted much of his career to striving for racial equality. Born in Atlanta in 1941, he grew up in Tampa, Florida, and at the age of 30 won a lawsuit that desegregated the schools where he was educated.
“I rode segregated buses, and I was from the era with the segregated lunch counters and water fountains,” he recalled. Early work as a lawyer also included fighting housing discrimination.
He studied English literature at Hamilton College and law at Yale. And he sang. It was at Yale Russian Chorus rehearsals that he met Ann Langdon. They wed and joined the Peace Corps and served in Honduras 1967–69 and were married for 54 years.
After Peace Corps service, Drew Days worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in New York City. Tapped for his role in the Justice Department, he tackled racism in blatant forms in school districts and sought to ensure more effective discipline for police who abused their authority.
He joined the faculty of Yale Law School in 1981 and was founding director of the Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights. Days argued 17 cases before the Supreme Court and supervised nearly 200 more. He died on November 15 at the age of 79. Our hearts go out to Ann and the family he loved dearly.
A pioneer in Peace Corps, law, and social justice see more
Civil rights attorney Elaine Jones talks with Jalina Porter
Photo: Elaine Jones. Courtesy Elaine Jones
Elaine Jones has led a landmark career that has included being the first woman to direct the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the first African American woman to attend law school at the University of Virginia. Where she learned the lessons in diplomacy that prepared her for that: Peace Corps in Turkey.
The daughter of a Pullman porter and a schoolteacher, Elaine Ruth Jones was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and was raised in the Jim Crow South. She has spoken of the importance of understanding “the realities of racism and the importance of idealism.” In 1972 she was the counsel of record for the case Furman v. Georgia, in which Jones represented a Black man on death row who had been accused of raping a white woman. The Supreme Court ruling on that case found that the death penalty as practiced by all U.S. states was cruel and unusual punishment.
Jones as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ankara, Turkey, where she taught at Hacettepe Science Centre. Photo courtesy Elaine Jones
Jones served in the Ford and Clinton administrations. She was instrumental in the passage of legislation bolstering voting rights, fair housing, and civil rights. She is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, and in December 2000 President Clinton presented her with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.
She spoke with Jalina Porter, a graduate of Howard University who served with the Peace Corps in Cambodia 2009–11; was a communications director in the U.S. Congress; in 2020 was honored with the Franklin H. Williams Award by the Peace Corps; and in January 2021 was named deputy spokesperson for the Department of State.
You either give in to it or you decide that you are going to do something to defeat it.
Jalina Porter: You served in the Peace Corps 1965–67. After graduating from Howard University, what made you want to join the Peace Corps, especially during that time?
Elaine Jones: I came from a completely segregated environment, born in the South in the ’40s. You had your separate water fountains, sitting in the back of the bus — we had all of that down in Virginia. That molds you — you either give in to it or you decide that you are going to do something to defeat it. I decided that this is not the way the world should be, as a little Black girl in the South. I decided that one day I would be able to do something to change it. And my parents always encouraged me.
I had come through elementary in public schools using secondhand, hand-me-down books. When I went to Howard, I got a scholarship. Stokely Carmichael was in my class, and folks would come back from the Freedom Rides. I was not down in Mississippi doing the Freedom Rides, but many others were. President Lyndon Johnson gave the “Great Society” speech at Howard during my graduation in 1965. And that is when I realized that I wanted to do law. Thurgood Marshall had come out of Howard. And I mean, they were my heroes — the lawyers. But I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t know anything about the world. I really had only been exposed to my own culture. I knew I needed more exposure and to be able to travel and meet other people. So I said, “My answer is the Peace Corps.” All I had to do was get in, because I knew I didn’t want to go to law school right away.
I applied to the Peace Corps, and they decided I would go to Turkey. We trained at Princeton; it was a special program, TEFL — teaching English as a foreign language. I was in Turkey Eight. There were nearly 200 of us in Turkey Eight, which was the biggest class that they’d had. And then we trained in-country. And guess who was studying there that summer? James Baldwin! You’re meant to go where you’re meant to go.
Folks in the street would look at me and spit on the sidewalk when I walked by, not because of an anti-Americanism, but because they thought I was Arabic.
Porter: What was it like being an African American woman volunteering in Turkey?
Jones: I was the only African American in that group. About 35 or 40 percent were women — white women — and then me. I had never been around their culture — whiteness, it’s a culture. For me, it was trying to respond and understand how to take them wanting to feel my hair. They focused on different things, too, and obviously had not been around people of color. So it was then that I understood I’m the experiment, you see? But the Peace Corps taught me patience. It taught me that if you adopt an attitude or something rubs you the wrong way, every time it happens that’s what you’re going to have the whole time you’re here. What you have to do is give people the benefit of the doubt. A lot of it is ignorance — just like you are ignorant about them, they’re also ignorant about you. And so I viewed it as an opportunity. I embraced it and made these two years in which I could grow, develop, and learn, which is what happened. I also made some great friends in the Peace Corps.
But I was still so different, because my students would not believe that I was American. A lot of them thought I was Arabic. There was no love lost between the Turks and the Arabs. But my students knew me and eventually accepted that I was American; I didn’t feel any antipathy from them. But folks in the street would look at me and spit on the sidewalk when I walked by, not because of an anti-Americanism, but because they thought I was Arabic. And the white volunteers got their share of stuff. Because it was a tough time when we got to Turkey in August of 1965. There had been a big slap in Cyprus; the Greeks and the Turks had been fighting over Cyprus for decades, and the U.S. had taken a position that was not palatable to Turkey. Feelings were running high, and the fact that we were American did not help the white volunteers. The Turkish people got angry with them because of the situation in Cyprus and the position that the U.S. had taken, which the Turks interpreted as being pro-Greek.
Even so, the Turks opened their hearts to us, on an individual level. When you take the institutions or nationalities out of it, and on a people-to-people level, Peace Corps worked because of the humanity of people.
Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was in law school. Nobody in the law school said one word, and some of them were gleeful.
Porter: Tell me about when you came back to the United States, and you already knew you wanted to be a lawyer. How did being in the Peace Corps and what you learned in Turkey help you when you became a lawyer, and eventually in your longtime role as president at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund?
Jones: I took the LSAT in Turkey. I was admitted to two law schools to which I applied. One was Howard and the other was the University of Virginia. When I came back from the Peace Corps, I decided that I had been to Howard, and it had been a rich experience. I learned a great deal. But I needed to do something different. It’s always easy to go to what’s comfortable. And the Mecca was comfortable. And I said, “Elaine, just like you went into Peace Corps, let’s do something different.” I showed up in Charlottesville in mid-August, and I didn’t know I would be the first African American woman to come through that law school. But I learned it fast though. I had learned diplomacy in the Peace Corps. And like Thurgood Marshall always said about the cases, “Lose your temper, lose your case.”
When I left law school, I had a job offer with President Nixon’s law firm on Wall Street — Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. And he was president at the time when I graduated, which was in 1970. But then I thought about it and told myself, “You didn’t go to law school to go to Wall Street. You went to law school because of the work of Constance Baker Motley and Thurgood Marshall and all those lawyers who litigated all those landmark cases.” My dean sent me to his friend in New York, Jack Greenberg, and Jack hired me on the spot.
The Peace Corps also helped me in Charlottesville. That, too, was alien territory. I had to apply the lessons of patience I learned. For example, try not to get an ulcer but keep your anger to yourself, and also try to give people the benefit of the doubt when there’s some benefit there to give them. Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was in law school. Nobody in the law school said one word, and some of them were gleeful.
Porter: What are your thoughts on the next chapter of Peace Corps — and what we should do to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Jones: The Peace Corps is a good idea. It only works, though, if our hosts fully embrace us. In other words, if our hosts give us the benefit of the doubt. It shouldn’t be what we want; they have to want us, as well. It’s very difficult to plop anybody down in a different culture and not have somebody in that culture that they can relate to, who looks like them. It’s also important that we have the right attitude, that we understand that it’s a partnership, and that we have things we want to give. But in order to give they have to be received.
Peace Corps has to have someone who really believes in its mission, who will be an advocate, have presence among her or his colleagues and influence within the administration.
Porter: What advice do you have for anybody who’s thinking about joining the Peace Corps, especially in light of the new administration coming into office?
Jones: Peace Corps has to have someone who really believes in its mission, who will be an advocate, have presence among her or his colleagues and influence within the administration toward the funding in a budget.
I think the heart of the Peace Corps is two things: the relationship in choosing carefully the nations that we’re going to; and the outlook and disposition of the putative Volunteers. How they view the world is very important. We cannot have people who anger quickly, jump to conclusions, or who are judgmental. Volunteers should also believe in the mission. If someone has had some positive experiences or negative experiences with the host country, they should have the ability to talk it through diplomatically.
Leader of Peace Corps programs, top diplomat, and fighter for civil rights see more
He led Peace Corps programs, served as a top diplomat, and achieved important milestones in civil rights.
By Jonathan Pearson
One of the first country directors appointed by Sargent Shriver in 1961, Walter C. Carrington led Peace Corps programs in Tunisia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone in the 1960s before serving as Regional Director for Africa. But that was just one facet of a remarkable life.
Prior to that, at Harvard he founded the chapter of the NAACP. He was the youngest-ever member of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and in the late 1950s his commission work included leading an investigation into the racist practices of the Boston Red Sox — the last team in the majors to break the color barrier on its roster.
He was a diplomat: Under President Jimmy Carter, Carrington served as U.S. ambassador to Senegal, and under President Bill Clinton as ambassador to Nigeria. That service came at a critical time; Carrington spoke for human rights and democracy and against the dictatorial rule of Sani Abacha.
He stood down a confrontation when armed police interrupted a reception near the end of his appointment. Nigerian leaders praised Carrington for his contributions leading to that country’s return to democratic rule.
He taught at many institutions of higher learning, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Simmons University, Marquette University and Howard University, where he directed the international affairs department. He died August 11, just a few weeks after celebrating his 90th birthday.
Each month we share news of members of the Peace Corps community whom we have lost: peacecorpsconnect.org
This story appears in the Fall 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
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