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    Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today see more

    Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today. Plus a year-by-year look at countries where Peace Corps programs began.

     

    Researched by Ellery Pollard, Emi Krishnamurthy, Sarah Steindl, Nathalie Vadnais, and Orrin Luc

    At right: the 10th-anniversary Peace Corps stamp, issued in 1972. Image courtesy Peace Corps

     

     

    As part of the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps in 2021, WorldView magazine has published a series of timelines tracking Peace Corps’ beginnings — and we’ve traced the 25-year history of Peace Corps Response. Explore more here:

    Annotation: Changing World |  The Globe in 1961, the year the Peace Corps was founded

    1961: Towering Task Edition | A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged

    Peace Corps Response: Snapshots from the First Quarter Century | In 2021 Peace Corps Response marked a quarter century since its founding. Some moments that have defined it.
     


     

    THE SIXTIES

     

    Dover on cover of Foreign Service Journal, December 1963

    “Dove of Peace” by Howard Jessor, on the cover of Foreign Service Journal, December 1963 edition. The publication is literally on press, in November 1963, when news breaks that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.​​ Courtesy American Foreign Service Association

     

     

     


    1960  

     

     

    February 1 

    In Greensboro, North Carolina, four Black college students sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and are denied service. A six-month protest results in desegregation of the lunch counter by summer.

     

    June

    Nations gaining independence from Britain and France include Nigeria, Cameroon, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Madagascar, Benin, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Togo, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Mauritania.

     

    October 14

    “How many of you are willing?” JFK’s campaign speech at the University of Michigan presents the idea of the Peace Corps.

     

    John F. Kennedy speaking at the University of Michigan, October 1960

     

    November 2

    In a speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, John F. Kennedy uses the term “Peace Corps” and calls for revitalizing U.S. global engagement.

    John F. Kennedy speaking at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, 1960

    JFK at the Cow Palace. Photo courtesy OpenSFHistory.org

     


    1961

     

    January 20

    John F. Kennedy inaugurated as president. He declares, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

     

    February 5

    Sargent Shriver outlines steps to forming the Peace Corps in a memo to JFK. Central are ideas put forth in “The Towering Task,” a memo by William Josephson and Warren Wiggins.

     

    March 1

    Executive Order 10924 establishes the Peace Corps. Sargent Shriver is appointed its first director on March 4.

     

    April 17–19

    Bay of Pigs invasion

     

    June 25

    First Peace Corps Volunteers begin training for Colombia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Ghana.

     

    July

    Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom.

     

    August 12–13

    Berlin Wall erected overnight.

     

    August 28

    Sargent Shriver leads the first groups of Peace Corps Volunteers to the Rose Garden for a send-off by President Kennedy.

     

    Sargent Shriver leading the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers, 1961

     

    August 30

    The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives at Accra Airport in Ghana.

     

    September 22

    Peace Corps Act signed into law by President Kennedy, creating the Peace Corps as an independent agency with a mission to “promote world peace and friendship.”

    Peace Corps Act

     

    December 25

    Newsweek magazine cover: “Peace Corps in Action: Ira Gwin” 

     


    1962

     

    April 22

    In Colombia, a plane crash in the jungle kills more than 30 people — including Larry Radley and David Crozier, the first Peace Corps Volunteers to die during service.

     

    June 30

    There are 2,816 Volunteers in the field.

     

    Nations gaining independence from Britain, France, and Belgium: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda

     

    October 16–28

    Cuban Missile Crisis

     


    1963

     

    July 5

    Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps appear on the cover of Time

     

    August 28

    At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech. 

     

    Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Washington DC

     

    November 22

    President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas.

     

    December 12

    Kenya gains independence from Great Britain.

     


    1964

     

    January 8

    In State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson announces a “War on Poverty” in the U.S.

     

    February 2

    Mr. Ed the talking horse wants to join the Peace Corps.

     

    Freedom Summer voter registration drive 

     

    October 14

    While still directing the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver begins serving as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Establishes Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents, and Legal Services for the Poor.

     


    1965

     

    February 21

    Malcolm X assassinated in New York.

     

    March 7

    The Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights begins — is met with brutal force by police.

     

    August 6

    LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

     


    1966

     

    February 24

    Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah overthrown by a military coup.

     

    March 1

    Sargent Shriver steps down as Peace Corps director. LBJ appoints Jack Vaughn director.

     

    June

    15,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving — the highest number yet. That record still holds.

     

    Guyana, Botswana, and Lesotho gain independence from Great Britain.

     

    September

    Lillian Carter, mother of future president Jimmy Carter, departs for Peace Corps service at the age of 68 as a public health Volunteer in India.

     

    Lillian Carter with medical staff in India

     


    1967

     

    “Volunteers to America” Peace Corps initiative brings people from other countries — including Argentina, Ghana, Nepal, the Philippines, Iran, and Israel — to serve in impoverished areas in the United States. The program lasts until 1971, when it is defunded by Congress.

     


    1968

     

    January 31

    Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam. 

     

    April 4

    Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis. 

     

    June 6

    Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles.

     

    August 20

    Soviet Union leads Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends and end the “Prague Spring.” 

     


    1969

     

    May 1

    Joseph Blatchford appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.

     

    June 28July 3

    Stonewall riots

     

    July 20

    Apollo 11 moon landing

     


     

    THE SEVENTIES

     

    Dove poster by artist Patrick Koller from 1972

    Now we are ten: Released in 1972, this poster by artist Patrick Koeller wins a competition for a design marking the first decade of the Peace Corps. Courtesy West Michigan Graphic Design Archives


    1970

     

    April 22

    First Earth Day

     

    April 28

    President Nixon orders U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia.

     

    May 4

    Members of Ohio National Guard fire into crowd of demonstrators at Kent State University; four are killed, nine wounded.

     

    May 8

    Twelve members of a group calling themselves the Committee of Returned Volunteers enter the fourth-floor offices of the Peace Corps and seal off a wing. They occupy offices for several days and hang a Viet Cong flag through the window. 

     


    1971

     

    Greenpeace founded in Canada.

     

    February 8

    The Pentagon Papers, a study by the U.S. Department of Defense about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, are published in The New York Times.

     

    July 1

    Executive Order 11603: President Nixon folds the Peace Corps into a new federal volunteer agency, ACTION. Kevin O’Donnell is appointed Peace Corps director.

     


    1972

     

    February 11

    The first Peace Corps stamp is issued in the U.S.

    Peace Corps Stamp first day of issue

     

    June 17

    Police arrest burglars in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Evidence will link the break-in to Nixon’s reelection campaign.

     

    August 11

    Donald Hess appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.


    1973

     

    January 22

    U.S. Supreme Court issues 7–2 decision in Roe v. Wade, ruling that states cannot completely bar a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy.

     

    October 1

    Nick Craw appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.

     

    December 28

    Endangered Species Act signed into law.

     


    1974

     

    August 8

    President Nixon resigns.

     

    September

    Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie deposed following a Marxist military coup. 

     

    November 5

    First Returned Peace Corps Volunteers elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (Dominican Republic 1966–68) and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (Ethiopia 1962–64).

     


    1975

     

    April 28

    John Dellenback appointed Peace Corps director by President Ford.

     

    April 30

    Saigon falls to communist troops from North Vietnam. Mozambique and Comoros gain independence from Portugal and France.

     


    1976

     

    January 21

    The Concorde takes flight — first supersonic commercial air travel.

     

    The United States celebrates its bicentennial.

     


    1977

     

    April 16

    Apple II computer, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 introduced, beginning the personal computer craze. 

     

    September 12

    South African activist Steve Biko dies after suffering a massive head injury in police custody.

     

    October 11

    Carolyn Robertson Payton appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter. She is the first woman and first Black American to serve in that role.

     


    1978

     

    January 7

    Iranian Revolution begins. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran will be stormed in November 1979.

     

    Storming of U.S. Embassy in Iran 1979

     

     

    Rainbow (Gay Pride) flag created by Gilbert Baker.

     


    1979

     

    Peace Corps closes its post in Afghanistan. In December, Soviet troops invade the country.

     

    National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV) founded. It will evolve into National Peace Corps Association.

     

    April 27

    Richard F. Celeste appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter.

     

    May 16

    Executive Order 12137: President Carter grants the Peace Corps full autonomy.

     


     

    THE EIGHTIES

     

    Peace Corps 1987 Congressional Budget Presentation

    The dove at 25: In 1987, this Peace Corps logo adorns a budget presentation to Congress. Volunteers partner with communities to address problems that include “hunger and malnutrition, infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy and limited educational opportunities, inadequate health care, and declining natural resources.” Image courtesy Peace Corps

     

     

    1980

     

    May 8

    World Health Assembly declares that smallpox has been eradicated from the planet. 

     


    1981

     

    As Peace Corps marks its 20th anniversary, the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers hosts the first national Peace Corps conference in Washington, D.C.

     

    May 6

    Loret Miller Ruppe appointed Peace Corps director by President Reagan. She serves eight years, more than any other director before or since.

     

    June

    First case of AIDS identified. In U.S. it is initially called “gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).”

     

    September 21

    Belize gains independence from Great Britain.

     

    December 29

    Legislation grants Peace Corps its independence as an agency.

     


    1982

     

    August 12

    Mexico tells the U.S. it can no longer service its $80 billion debt. Brazil, Argentina, and virtually every other country in Latin America is unable to pay back loans, triggering a regional economic crisis.

     


    1983

     

    January 1

    The Internet is born when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) adopts the standard TCP/IP protocol of the World Wide Web.

     

    January  

    Peace Corps establishes the Small Project Assistance (SPA) program.

     


    1984

     

    January

    Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh.

     

    December 2

    In Bhopal, India, 30 tons of methylisocyanate, an industrial gas used to make pesticide, are released at a Union Carbide plant, killing some 15,000 people.

     


    1985

     

    January

    Loret Miller Ruppe signs a letter of agreement establishing the Coverdell Fellows Program with founder Dr. Beryl Levinger (Colombia 1967–69).

     

    September

    For the first time in Peace Corps history, more women than men begin service as Volunteers.

     


     

    Envelope from Tuvalu with Peace Corps stamp

    Letter home: In 1986, Tuvalu commemorates the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. Volunteers began serving in the Pacific island nation in 1977.​ Courtesy PeaceCorpsOnline.org

    ​​​​​​

     

    1986

     

    Lillian Carter Award established to honor those over the age of 50 who have served and advanced the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. Lillian’s son, President Jimmy Carter, calls the award “a wonderful celebration of what is best about the Peace Corps — offering up some of America’s best to the world, and bringing the world home to other Americans.”

     

    April 26

    Reactor 4 at Chernobyl explodes in Ukrainian S.S.R. — worst nuclear disaster ever in terms of casualties and cost.

     

    Wole Soyinka of Nigeria becomes the first African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

     


    1987

     

    The number of Peace Corps Volunteers serving drops to new low: 5,219. Government mistrust and aftermath of the Vietnam War take their toll.

     

    The Peace Corps and its 120,000 current and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are honored with the Beyond War Award for their commitment to nonviolence.

     

    October 19

    Black Monday on the U.S. stock market. Dow plummets 508 points, more than 22 percent.

     


    1988

     

    September

    Barbara Jo White (Dominican Republic 1987–89) creates the World Map Project, which has been replicated by Peace Corps Volunteers in countries around the world.

     

    Coffee bearing the Fair Trade label is introduced.

     


    1989

     

    April 20

    Paul D. Coverdell appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.

    Coverdell establishes World Wise Schools program (WWS) to connect American educators in classrooms with Peace Corps Volunteers.

     

    November 9

    Berlin Wall falls. On November 17, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia leads to end of communism there. That same date, in El Salvador, a military hit squad murders six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter.

    Brandenburg Gate in Berlin 1989 

    December 24

    Civil war begins in Liberia, pitting Charles M. Taylor against former subordinate Prince Johnson. Fighting lasts until 1996.

     


    THE NINETIES

     

    Envelope from Fiji for 25th anniversary of Peace Corps in Fiji

    You’ve got mail: In 1993, Fiji celebrates the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in communities there. Courtesy David Downes 

     

    1990

     

    January 28

    Poland’s ruling communist party votes to dissolve. In ensuing elections, Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity Movement and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wins the presidency.

     

    February 11

    Nelson Mandela freed from prison in South Africa after 27 years.

     

    June

    First Peace Corps Volunteers begin serving in Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.

     

    August 

    Iraq invades Kuwait.

     


    1991

     

    LGBT RPCV formed in Washington, D.C.

     

    January 17

    First Gulf War begins, with a U.S.-led coalition driving invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

     

    August 6

    First website appears on World Wide Web.

     

    October 8

    Elaine Chao appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.

     

    December 25

    Soviet Union dissolves.

     


    1992

     

    September 12

    Former Peace Corps medical officer Mae Jemison travels into space on Shuttle Endeavor. She is first Black American woman in space.

     


    1993

     

    February 26

    Terrorists detonate a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center, killing 6, wounding more than 100, and causing more than 50,000 people to evacuate.

     

    May 24

    Following a referendum, Eritrea breaks away from Ethiopia to become an independent nation.

     

    September 21

    AmeriCorps established by the National and Community Service Trust Act, creating a “domestic Peace Corps.”

     President Clinton signing legislation creating AmeriCorps

     

     

    October 7

    Carol Bellamy (Guatemala 1963–65) sworn in as Peace Corps director. She is the first Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to hold the post.

     

    November 1

    European Union becomes reality.

     


    1994

     

    April 27

    A new constitution takes effect in South Africa, officially ending the apartheid system.

     

    July 

    Amazon.com opens.

     


    1995

     

    April 19

    Domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols park a truck bomb beneath the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At least 168 people are killed in the explosion, including 19 children in a childcare center located in the building.

     

     

    August

    Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania create Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).

     

    June 21

    Mark D. Gearan appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.

     

    December

    Peace Corps sends three Volunteers to Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis — a step toward creation of Crisis Corps.

     


    1996

     

    June

    Crisis Corps officially launched at a Rose Garden ceremony to send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on short-term, high-impact assignments. 

     

    July 5

    Scientists in Scotland clone Dolly the Sheep — the first cloning of a mammal.

     


    1997

     

    January

    Kofi A. Annan becomes Secretary General of the U.N. He is the first sub-Saharan African to hold the post. 

     

    February

    First cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives in South Africa.

     

    Volunteer C.D. Glin with his students in South Africa, 1997 

     


    1998

     

    September

    In Menlo Park, California, grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin launch search engine Google.

     


    1999

     

    March 24

    NATO airstrikes begin against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, aimed at halting actions by Slobodan Milošević’s government against ethnic Albanians, and forcing it to withdraw from Kosovo.  

     

    May

    First commercial camera phone introduced.

     

    December 23

    Mark L. Schneider (El Salvador 1966–68) appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.

     

    THE 2000s

     

    Foreign Service Journal cover 2008 - Dove on globe

     

    “A Common Mission: Peace Corps and Foreign Service” is the theme of the October 2008 edition of Foreign Service Journal, with cover illustration by Philippe Béha /i2iart.com. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association

     

    2000

     

    November 2

    International Space Station opens.

     

    It is estimated that some 36 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus.

     

    High Atlas Foundation established in Morocco by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to further sustainable development.

     


    2001

     

    January 15

    Wikipedia debuts. 

     

    September 11

    Terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Peace Corps recruiting office in Building 6 of WTC is destroyed when the Twin Towers collapse. Volunteers will be evacuated from Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

     

    October 7

    A U.S.-led coalition begins a bombing campaign against Afghanistan and later begins a ground offensive.

     


    2002

     

    January 23

    Gaddi H. Vasquez appointed Peace Corps director by President George W. Bush. He is the first Hispanic American to serve as director.

     

    The Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

     


    2003

     

    March 19

    U.S. invades Iraq; second Gulf War begins.

     

    April 14

    Sequence mapping of the human genome is completed.

     

    May

    The Peace Corps commits an additional 1,000 Volunteers to fight HIV/AIDS.

     

    July

    The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience project is introduced at the National Peace Corps Association Group Leaders annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.

     

    Museum of the Peace Corps Experience banner

     

    November

    Disputed parliamentary elections in nation of Georgia lead to the Rose Revolution.

     


    2004

     

    February 4

    Facebook founded.

     

    Disputed presidential elections in Ukraine lead to the Orange Revolution.

     

    December 26

    A massive earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggers a tsunami, killing more than 200,000. Peace Corps Response Volunteers assist with relief efforts in several nations.

     


    2005

     

    September 

    Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath, Peace Corps Response Volunteers are deployed domestically for the first time to assist with relief efforts. 

     

    November 23

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becomes the first African woman to lead an African nation when she is elected president of Liberia.

     

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2015

     


    2006

     

    Atlas Corps founded to bring individuals on service fellowships to the U.S., earning reputation as a “reverse Peace Corps.”

    August 

    The International Astronomical Union demotes Pluto to the status of dwarf planet. 

     

    September 26

    Ronald A. Tschetter (India 1966–68) sworn in as Peace Corps director.

     


    2007

     

    January

    Apple debuts the iPhone.

     

    June

    Peace Corps Prep program inaugurated at select U.S. colleges.

     

    November 

    Crisis Corps is renamed Peace Corps Response — a name that better captures the broad range of assignments Volunteers are undertaking.

     


    2008

     

    October

    Peace Corps returns to Liberia after an absence of nearly two decades.

     


    2009

     

    January 20

    Barack Obama inaugurated president. National Peace Corps Association leads returned Volunteers in the inaugural parade.

     

    January

    After leaving Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Peace Corps Volunteers return to begin working in secondary education and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

     

    March 12

    Kate Puzey, a Volunteer in Benin, is murdered after reporting the sexual abuse of girls within her community by a Peace Corps staff member.

     

    March 15

    Joseph Acaba (Dominican Republic 1994–96) becomes first returned Volunteer to serve as a NASA astronaut, making his first trip to space aboard Shuttle Discovery.

     

    August 24

    Aaron S. Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70) sworn in as Peace Corps director.

     


     

    THE 2010s+

     

    Bibliography for Peace Corps Writers 2011

    Fiftieth anniversary project, launched thanks to a letter from Congressman John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68) to Librarian of Congress James Billington. Among those thanked: Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962–64) of Peace Corps Writers. Courtesy Library of Congress


    2010

     

    Total number of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served surpasses 200,000.

     

     

    National Peace Corps Association logo

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    National Peace Corps Association introduces new logo.

     

     

    January 12

    A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti, killing some 200,000.

     

    April 20

    Explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig kills 11 people and spills more than 3 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

     

    September 

    Peace Corps HQ begins presenting the Franklin H. Williams Award, named for an early agency leader. Established by the New York recruiting office in 1999, the award recognizes ethnically diverse returned Volunteers committed to promoting understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

     


    2011

     

    50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. The agency reopens programs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.

     

    January

    ABC news program “20/20” airs “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed,” telling the story of Kate Puzey.

     

    March 

    Peace Corps releases 50th-anniversary commemorative print by artist Shepard Fairey.

     

    Shepard Fairey poster for Peace Corps 50th anniversary

     

    November 21

    President Obama signs the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act into law.

     

    CorpsAfrica is launched by RPCV Liz Fanning to give young Africans the opportunity to work with communities in a Peace Corps–style program. 

     


    2012

     

    June

    Egypt’s first competitive presidential election. Mohamed Morsi wins. After months of protests, he is overthrown in a coup in July 2013.

     

    September 11

    RPCV and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens killed in attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

     


    2013

     

    February 7

    Volunteer Nick Castle dies in China after failing to receive adequate medical care; his parents call for Peace Corps reform and begin advocacy work that continues to this day.

     

    May

    Peace Corps approves assignments for same-sex partners.

     

    December 5

    Nelson Mandela dies.

     


    2014

     

    February

    Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. Russia seizes Crimea and then backs separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine. 

     

    June 6

    Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Western Samoa 1982–83) appointed Peace Corps director by President Obama.

     

    Ebola sweeps across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, eventually killing 11,000 people. Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers in August. Peace Corps staff in Guinea step up to play an instrumental role in contact tracing and training.

     

    October 10

    Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize.

     


    2015

     

    March 3

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announce Let Girls Learn, an initiative to expand access to education for girls around the world. Peace Corps begins a close collaboration with the First Lady to address barriers to education for girls.

     

    Girls in Morocco as part of Let Girls Learn initiative

     

    June 26

    U.S. Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage is legal.

     

    October 

    Peace Corps receives 23,000 applications during the fiscal year, breaking 40-year record.

     

    November

    Terror attacks in Paris kill 130, wound 494. ISIS claims responsibility. 

     


    2016

     

    Peace Corps Logo

     

     

     

     

     

     

    June 1

    Peace Corps logo gets a makeover, alongside a refreshed brand platform and new website.


    2017

     

    October

    #MeToo movement gains prominence after widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

     


    2018

     

    January

    Volunteer Bernice Heiderman, serving in Comoros, dies due to undiagnosed malaria. As her story is told, it raises hard questions about how Volunteer illness is handled during service.

     

    March 30

    Dr. Josephine (Jody) K. Olsen (Tunisia 1966–68) is sworn in as Peace Corps director.

     

    October

    President Trump signs the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act into law. Key provisions: strengthening criteria for hiring overseas medical officers, and supporting Volunteers victimized by sexual assault or other forms of violence.

     


    2019

     

    National Peace Corps Association marks its 40th anniversary.

     

    September 22

    “A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” documentary premieres at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

     

    Screenshot from documentary A Towering Task

     


    2020

     

    January 17

    Peace Corps announces the “graduation” of the program in China.

     

    March 11

    World Health Organization declares COVID-19 pandemic.

     

    March 15

    In an unprecedented decision, all Peace Corps Volunteers are evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19.

     

    Evacuating Peace Corps Volunteers

     

    May

    Killing of George Floyd sparks national and then global protests against racial injustice.

     

    June

    Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen announces Peace Corps program to launch in Viet Nam in 2022. 

     

    July

    National Peace Corps Association hosts town halls and ideas summit as part of Peace Corps Connect to the Future. This results in a report on how to reimagine, retool, and reshape the Peace Corps for a changed world.

     

    Peace Corps Connect to the Future Report

     

    October

    Peace Corps launches Virtual Service Pilot program for evacuated Volunteers to continue working with countries where they were serving.

     


    2021

     

    January 6

    A violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol attempts to stop the certification of the presidential election.

     

    January 20

    Carol Spahn (Romania 1994–96) assumes responsibilities as acting director of the Peace Corps.

     

    March 1

    Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68). It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades.

     

    May

    Peace Corps deploys Response Volunteers with FEMA at community vaccination centers to fight COVID-19 — only the second time they have served domestically. Staff who continue to serve at posts around the world also partner in efforts to fight COVID-19.

     

    Peace Corps Response Volunteers in masks to fight COVID

     

    August 30

    Last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, after two decades of fighting.

     

    September

    NPCA hosts 60th-anniversary Peace Corps Connect. The theme: “Mobilizing for a Lifetime of Service and Impact.”

     


    2022

     

    Volunteers are invited to return to service in five countries.

     

    Peace Corps Place, new headquarters for National Peace Corps Association, to open in Truxton Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C., providing a home for the Peace Corps community with a café and event space.

     

     


     

    PEACE CORPS BEGINNINGS: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY

    And year by year — beginning in August 1961, and looking toward plans in 2022. 

     

    Peace Corps Volunteers arrive
    1961 | Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania)

     

    1962Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Malaysia, Nepal, Niger, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela

     

    1963Costa Rica, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Malawi, Morocco, Panama, Uruguay

     

    1964Kenya, Uganda

     

    1966Botswana, Chad, Grenada, Guyana, Republic of Korea, Libya, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau, Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis

     

    1967Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Dominica, The Gambia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Samoa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga

     

    1968Barbados, Benin, Fiji, Nicaragua

     

    1969Mauritius, Swaziland (now Eswatini)

     

    1970Malta, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) 

     

    1971Mali, Solomon Islands

     

    1972Central African Republic (CAR)

     

    1973Oman, Yemen

     

    1974Bahrain, Kiribati, Montserrat, Seychelles

     

    1975Rwanda

     

    1977Tuvalu

      

    1980Anguilla, Turks and Caicos

     

    1981Papua New Guinea

     

    1982Cook Islands, Haiti

     

    1983Burundi

     

    1984Sudan

     

    1986Marshall Islands

     

    1988Cape Verde, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau


    1990Czechoslovakia (now Czechia and Slovakia), Hungary, Namibia, Poland, São Tomé and Príncipe, Vanuatu

     

    1991Bulgaria, Republic of the Congo, Mongolia, Romania, Zimbabwe

     

    1992Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan

     

    1993China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Moldova, Turkmenistan

     

    1994Niue, Zambia

     

    1995Eritrea, Suriname

     

    1996Macedonia (now North Macedonia)

     

    1997Jordan, South Africa

     

    1998Bangladesh, Mozambique

     

    2000Bosnia and Herzegovina

     

    2001Georgia

     

    2002Timor-Leste

     

    2003Azerbaijan

     

    2004Mexico

     

    2007Cambodia

     

    2014Kosovo

     

    2016Myanmar

     

    2020Montenegro

     

    2022Viet Nam

     

    This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine. 

    Story updated January 12, 2022 at 8:45 a.m. to correct spelling.


    Comments or suggestions? Write us. | Story updated December 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM. 

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    His research yielded the book Black Parties and Political Power: A Case Study. see more

    He was a scholar, teacher, film producer, and worked with emerging Black political parties in South Africa.

     

    A lesson: Hardy Frye, in his days with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, telling how Black Americans in the South overcame fear to organize community action. Photo courtesy Civil Rights Movement Archive

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    Tuskegee, Alabama, was where Hardy Frye grew up and learned about Black history from his teachers. After service in the Army, he moved to Los Angeles and became involved in civil rights activism. He picketed the 1960 Democratic National Convention and registered Black voters during Mississippi Freedom Summer. He was a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary in Mississippi and Alabama 1964–67.

    He earned a Ph.D. in sociology at U.C. Berkeley and went to teach at Yale, then returned to teach at U.C. Santa Cruz for many years. His research yielded the book Black Parties and Political Power: A Case Study and led him to work with emerging Black political parties in South Africa after the end of apartheid.

    He served as Peace Corps country director in Guyana and co-produced the 1994 documentary Freedom on My Mind, nominated for an Academy Award. He retired but did not stop lecturing on social justice and community service. He died in June 2021 at age 82.

  • Brian Sekelsky posted an article
    A 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. 

    —SBS

     


     

    January 3

    Outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces that the United States has severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

     


     

    January 8

    France holds referendum on independence of Algeria: 70%  vote in favor.

     

     

     


     

    Charlayne Hunter

    January 9

    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.

     

     

     

     


     

    January 17

     

    President Eisenhower’s farewell address. Warns of the increasing power of a “military-industrial complex.”

     


     

    January 17

    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 speaking

    January 20

    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.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

     

    January 21

    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.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    February

    ANGOLA: Start of fighting to gain independence from Portuguese colonial rule. February 4 will come to be marked as liberation day.

     


     

     

    February 5

    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.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    The Beatles

     

    February 9

    Debut appearance by the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    February 12

    USSR launches Venera 1 — first craft to fly past Venus.

     

     

     

      

     

     

     


     

     

     

    February 27

    Aretha Franklin releases first studio album: “Aretha with the Ray Bryant Combo.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    March 1

    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.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    March 4

    JFK announces Sargent Shriver will serve as first Director of the Peace Corps.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    March 6

    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.

     


     

     

     

    March 14

    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.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

     

    March 18

    ALGERIA: Cease-fire takes effect in War of Independence from France.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


      

    March 29

    23rd Amendment ratified. Allows residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections for the first time.

     


     

    April 11

    Trial of the century — of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution of the Jewish question” — begins in Jerusalem.

     


     

    April 12

    Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes first human being to travel into space. In Vostok I, he completes an orbit of the Earth.

     


     

    April 17

    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.

     


     

     

     

    April 22

    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.

      

     

     

     

     

     


     

    April 27

    SIERRA LEONE gains independence following over 150 years’ British colonial rule. Milton Margai serves as prime minister until his death in 1964.

     


      

    April 29

    World Wildlife Fund for Nature established in Europe. Focuses on environmental preservation and protection of endangered species worldwide.

     


     

     

     

    May 4

    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.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

     

    May 5

    First U.S. astronaut flies into space: Alan Shepard Jr. on Freedom 7.

     

     

     

     

     


      

    May 11

    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.

     

     

      

     

     

    May 15

    First Peace Corps placement test administered

     

     

     

     

      

     

    May 21

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms Shriver as Director of the Peace Corps.

     

     

     

     

     

    May 22

    Dear Peace Corps Volunteer: First Volunteers receive letters from President Kennedy inviting them to join the new Peace Corps.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

     

     

     

    May 25

    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.”

     

     

     

     

     


     

    May 25

    DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who has ruled since 1930, is assassinated following internal armed resistance against his oppressive regime.

     


     

     

    May 31

    SOUTH AFRICA: Following a white-only referendum, the government of the Union of South Africa leaves the British Commonwealth and becomes an independent republic.

     

     

     


     

    June 4

    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.”

     


     

     

    June 6

    ETHIOPIA: In the Karakore region, a magnitude 6.5 earth-quake strikes. Thirty people die.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    June 22

    Peace Corps has received “11,000 completed applications” in the first few months, Shriver tells Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

     


     

    June 25

    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.

     


     

     

    July

    Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom to support human rights and promote global justice and freedom.

     


     

    August 3

    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.

     


     

     

    August 4

    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.

     

     

     


     

     

    August 4

    Barack Obama born in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 2008 he becomes first African American president and 44th president of the United States.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    August 6

    Vostok 2: Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov becomes second human to orbit the Earth — and first in space for more than one day.

     


     

    August 10

    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.

     


     

     

    August 13

    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.

      

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

    August 17

    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.

     


     

     

    August 21

    KENYA: Anti-colonial activist Jomo Kenyatta released from prison after serving nearly nine years. In 1964 he becomes president of Kenya.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    August 25

    Senate passes the Peace Corps Act. 

     

     

    August 28

    Rose Garden send-off: President Kennedy hosts a ceremony for the first groups of Volunteers departing for service in Ghana and Tanganyika.

     

     

     

     

     


     

    August 30

    After a 23-hour charter Pan Am flight from Washington, 51 Volunteers land in Accra, Ghana, to begin their service as teachers.

     


     

    August 30

    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.

     


     

    September 1

    ERITREA: War of Independence begins with Battle of Adal, when Hamid Idris Awate and companions fire shots against the occupying Ethiopian army and police.

     


     

    September 4

    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.

     


     

    September 6

    Drawing a bright line, official policy declares Peace Corps will not be affiliated in any way with intelligence or espionage.

     


     

    September 8

    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.

     

     

     

    September 14

    House passes the Peace Corps Act 288–97. 

     

     

    September 18

    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.

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

    September 22

    House and Senate bills reconciled: JFK signs the Peace Corps Act into law. The mandate: “promote world peace and friendship.”

      

     

     

     

    September 30

    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.

     


     

    October 14

    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.

     


     

     

    October 18

    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.

     

     


     

     

    October 30

    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.

     

     

     


     

     

    November 9

    GHANA: U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth visits to meet with President Kwame Nkrumah.

     

     


     

     

     

    November 24

    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.

     

     

     

     

     


     

    November 28

    Postcard postscript: Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa gives a warm welcome to the second group of Peace Corps Volunteers.

     


     

    December 6

    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.

     


     

     

    December 9

    TANGANYIKA declares independence from the British Commonwealth. In 1964 country name becomes Tanzania.

     

     


     

     

    December 14

    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.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

    December 31

    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.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    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. 

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    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.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    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:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

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