A conversation with Mark Gearan and Keri Lowry see more
From Peace Corps to AmeriCorps to envisioning a quantum leap: 1 million people in the U.S. serving every year — and changing the culture and ethos of service. So how do we get there?
A conversation with Mark Gearan and Keri Lowry.
By Steven Boyd Saum
In 2017, the U.S. government undertook the first-ever comprehensive and holistic review of all forms of service to the nation, and Congress wrote into law the creation of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Over many months, this 11-member bipartisan commission embarked on visits to 42 cities in 22 states, to listen and learn. One area they were charged with examining: military selective service. Then, more broadly: how to expand all kinds of service — domestically and internationally.
The commission issued its final report, including a raft of recommendations, in March 2020 — as a pandemic swept the country. Media attention was minimal — which was both understandable and ironic, given that the crisis underscored the need for service, such as “a Peace Corps for contact tracers.” Even so, recommendations in the report began shaping proposed legislation. And, as this year has shown, there are much bigger changes afoot.
As for selective service: The commission recommended that all citizens, regardless of gender, be registered. That is reflected in next year’s Defense Authorization Act, currently making its way through Congress.
MARK GEARAN served as vice chair for the commission. He was director of the Peace Corps 1995–99 and president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges 1999–2017. Since 2018 he has led the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
KERI LOWRY served as director of government affairs and public engagement for the commission. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso 2000–02. She has gone on to serve on the National Security Council; as regional director for the Peace Corps for Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa; and as deputy assistant secretary of state. She is currently in the National Security Segment of Guidehouse.
Steven Saum: Let’s start with the big question behind this whole endeavor: If we’re talking about it on a national stage, why does service matter?
Mark Gearan: It goes to the very fabric of our life and civil society. The work can make a real and meaningful difference in communities, in terms of actual outcomes, both domestically and globally. It’s also a powerful statement about our society: about people giving back and caring about others, to share skills and work for the public good. There’s an individual and a collective dimension. And at a time when our nation has these deep divisions, service can be a uniter. It can allow people to work across the whole spectrum of differences that may separate us. Common purpose for the public good is vital for our society’s health and well-being, and for our nation’s security.
Saum: Talk about where we were as a country when this project began — your sense of what was at stake. And how has that changed since the report came out last year?
Gearan: What Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-RI) did was really unprecedented: bring together military, national, and public service. It offered a different look, because it affected the very structure of the commission; those appointed by congressional leadership and the president reflected a diversity of experience — military backgrounds, congressional staff, people who had held elected office, some of us directly associated with national service. I liken some of the work we did to de Tocqueville’s tour of our country in his great book: We traveled, did extensive listening sessions.
There is so much good work going on around the country — that’s the good news. But the potential is largely untapped. That led to recommendations that, at the beginning, I would not have imagined. Civic education, for instance, came up through the listening. The report gives a comprehensive road map — and it offers an expansive vision that strengthens all forms of service to meet the needs that we have, and in so doing, strengthens our democracy.
Keri Lowry: The listening sessions helped us understand different facets, the actors in various spaces, how much overlap there was, and ways they could work together to start to bridge divides. The report does a great job of helping put those pieces together. The question is, what is the right ignition to get it going?
Illustration by James Steinberg
Gearan: Service is a fundamental part of who we are as Americans, and how we meet our challenges. But we’re a big country, 330 million people. By igniting the extraordinary potential for service, our recommendations will address critical security and domestic needs, expand economic and educational opportunities, strengthen the civic fabric — and establish a robust culture and ethos of service. Legislatively, part of this effort is in the American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021; there’s $1 billion for AmeriCorps. That doubles AmeriCorps funding. There is growing support for bipartisan efforts, like the CORPS Act, introduced by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS). Hopefully, the broader point will extend to Peace Corps and other streams of service.
Lowry: One great example of where the commitment to service comes together: In 2020, evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers were able to pivot their service when they came back and help domestically, based on what they learned overseas. A lot of them integrated with AmeriCorps efforts. It was very organic.
Gearan: When I served as Peace Corps director, we had 10,000 applications for 3,500 slots every year. I can’t attest that all 6,500 who were not invited would be qualified. But Americans, confronted with those facts, would say something’s fundamentally lacking—that you have thousands raising their hands to serve, and we would not support them. We saw that domestically as well, on our tour, this untapped potential.
We’ve had 235,000 Americans who’ve served in the Peace Corps and over a million in AmeriCorps. There’s growing interest. We can, by 2031 — the 70th anniversary of President Kennedy’s call — envision a million Americans will begin to serve in military, national, or public service every year. That’s a significant scaling up. When I was director, we had the campaign to get to 10,000 Volunteers by 2000. We got authorizing legislation done. The appropriations weren’t there.
The long-term goal is to cultivate a culture and ethos of service, in which individuals of all backgrounds expect, aspire, and have access to serve. This comes with bipartisan support. The chair of the commission was a former Republican congressman. We had folks appointed by Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan; I was appointed by Senator Reed—so the commission did represent a broad ideological spectrum. At the end, we were united in our recommendations.
Lowry: One thing that became clear fairly quickly in the listening sessions is how little people knew about opportunities to serve — or the variety of venues. They might know about one component of service, but not others.
Gearan: One recommendation is the creation of a White House Council to coordinate service efforts across the federal government, to make service more focused and effective — and draw a brighter spotlight on it. Another is to have an online platform providing a one-stop shop for individuals to explore service opportunities. Low awareness and lack of access are real obstacles preventing many Americans from serving. That would also help service organizations — certainly the Peace Corps — find those with the interests or skills they need to achieve their mission. President Kennedy’s vision with the Peace Corps, continuing domestically with AmeriCorps, supported by present bipartisan administrations and Congress over the years, seems a good foundation to build on. Senator Coons’ work with Senator Wicker and other Republicans to advance the CORPS Act is another recent example of bipartisan support. In terms of AmeriCorps, there are real needs being met — and a documented return on investment. A good body of research shows that for every dollar you put in, there’s $17 returned.
With the tragedies of the pandemic, inequities have been laid bare — unequal access to healthcare, education. That has a motivating impact for many lawmakers: How could service meet some of these needs? The past year has put a sense of urgency on answering that.
Saum: The report was released in March 2020 as the country was going into real crisis with the pandemic — a tough time, yet the need for service was even more relevant.
Gearan: Our target date, March 25, was planned months in advance because of necessary deadlines — including printing. It fell at the height of the pandemic and lockdowns. Having said that, we also included, in addition to some 64 recommendations, legislative language — which was helpful to the Hill for operationalizing quickly. Some recommendations helped shape legislation introduced last year, and more this year — such as with Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and his caucus’s efforts; and the efforts that Senator Coons and others have picked up in the Senate.
I have seen more momentum and energy associated with thinking about service in an expansive way than I have for many years. It’s almost always been somewhat of a defensive posture: Save AmeriCorps, advance the Peace Corps budget. Along with the legislative tactical piece, this really brought it to a broader level of conversation. It’s a unique moment.
Significantly, it’s also clear that with the tragedies of the pandemic, inequities have been laid bare — unequal access to healthcare, education. That has a motivating impact for many lawmakers: How could service meet some of these needs? The past year has put a sense of urgency on answering that.
We traveled to 22 states and consulted with hundreds of stakeholders, hearing thousands of public comments. It was three years of work charged by the Congress. The initial focus was the selective service and whether there would be a requirement for all Americans to register; that always has news focus. But there’s been a much more fulsome look at our recommendations.
Saum: One common refrain I hear again and again is: “We need a Peace Corps for this, we need a Peace Corps for that.” There’s a recognition that service, and harnessing the energies of more Americans, might be a way to deepen understanding, address problems, and weave the fabric of the country more strongly.
Gearan: There’s the deep respect that the Peace Corps enjoys — deservedly so, thanks to the work of Volunteers, which has laid out this path in many ways.
AmeriCorps has added to it, certainly. Peace Corps was born in another political time, with a vision and energy that has marked six decades of making a difference; that informs so much of what this broad movement is about. When I would travel and listen to different stakeholders, there was frequently more than just a nod to the Peace Corps; there was a foundational element of understanding the importance of service through people’s understanding of the Peace Corps.
So there are many reasons to be grateful to Peace Corps Volunteers and what they have done. It’s also allowed for this moment — as when President Clinton started AmeriCorps, and people understood the shorthand for it was “the domestic Peace Corps.”
Saum: So where do you see the ignition coming from?
Lowry: Look at the meetings that National Peace Corps Association began convening last year, for Peace Corps Connect to the Future. As came up in discussion there, the private sector has a potentially big role here.
The Employers of National Service, and getting more employers to join — that could be an igniter. Show more benefits to young people — or even not young people: You’re learning skills and capabilities that can help you get a job. My company makes efforts to hire candidates that have military, public, and/or national service on their resumes.
To usher in this new era of service, we need the infrastructure to support a million Americans in national service.
Gearan: To support a million Americans serving by 2031, you have to remove some barriers. We know from our travels that AmeriCorps, YouthBuild, Peace Corps can make a difference, meet challenges. The demand is there. To usher in this new era of service, we need the infrastructure to support a million Americans in national service. Part of it is expanding existing programs. Part of it is creating new models — such as a new fellowship program to allow Americans to choose where they want to serve from a list of certified organizations. We made recommendations for funding demonstration projects to pilot innovative approaches, and to increase private sector and interagency partnerships. You’re not going to get to a million without that.
Look at recent numbers for national service: 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers, 75,000 AmeriCorps volunteers. We’re a long way from a million. But if we really committed ourselves, it’s achievable. Then it would lead to the next level, as Harris Wofford used to say. It won’t be atypical to ask, “Where have you served?”
Lowry: We want to change that conversation, but also start to change the culture.
Saum: For the Peace Corps community, what’s important for them to keep in mind in terms of national service — and making that quantum leap?
Gearan: First, gratitude. I would hope the Peace Corps community and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, in particular, would feel proud that their service has ushered in a moment for us to significantly enhance the ethos of service in our country, because their work from the early years through today has prepared a pathway for significant expansion.
Secondly, I hope they would be a part of this movement. Their voice is unique, it is appreciated — and they can speak from experience as we work with legislators to advance this expanded national service movement. I’d hope their attentiveness to legislative work and all the good work of NPCA on advocacy would continue. We’re at a real pivotal moment for expanded opportunities for service.
Lowry: Peace Corps gave me opportunities that I never envisioned. For national service to expand and meet the needs of a broader swath of the American population, we need those voices of returned Volunteers to help make national service meet the needs of individuals today. Just because my Peace Corps service included X-Y-Z, that doesn’t mean that the Peace Corps service of someone tomorrow might not have elements that we haven’t been considering to date, or it just hasn’t gotten over the finish line. Their understanding and their voices can help make national service the best that it can be going forward — for their children and their children’s children.
National Peace Corps Association did a phenomenal job of teeing that conversation up last year. It would be wonderful if there’s a way that we can continue that conversation to make national service even better.
We sit atop 60 years of demonstrated efforts by Americans making a difference. That’s a proud legacy. I would say the best way to honor it is by saying, OK, what is the next chapter?
Gearan: In so many ways, the Peace Corps is kind of the crown jewel of so much great service work. Its roots and foundational ethos, thanks to Sargent Shriver and his contemporaries, so informed the broader movement. And if anyone would be calling for innovation and creativity and expanded slots for the Peace Corps’ next chapter, it would be Sargent Shriver.
We’re in this moment, formed and complicated by a pandemic, with challenges and needs that have been exposed for decades as well. But congressional and state leadership see how service is making a difference. We sit atop 60 years of demonstrated efforts by Americans making a difference. That’s a proud legacy. I would say the best way to honor it is by saying, OK, what is the next chapter?
Saum: What does it mean to serve now?
Gearan: As Peace Corps director, when I was visiting Volunteers or meeting RPCVs, the commonality of experience was striking—whether one had served in the ’60s in Ethiopia, in Poland in the ’90s, or South Africa in the 2000s. The shared experience of making a difference was the through line. And that brilliant Third Goal—the domestic dividend—is one of the underappreciated pieces of the Peace Corps.
We have now 235,000 Americans who have served — many in top-level government, business, education, industry, commerce, law, across the spectrum.
Lowry: Go back to that sense of being innovative and looking forward: Peace Corps’ true roots are in building peace and friendship. This is why we’re serving in communities, not just for a short but for a longer duration of time — to really build and seek to understand.
Read the Report
Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView.
Communications Intern posted an articleBill Josephson reflects on two key members of the Peace Corps see more
Kindred spirits who they helped shape the early years of the Peace Corps
By Bill Josephson
Pictured: Dr. Mahmud Hussain, vice chancellor of Dacca University — one of the host institutions for Peace Corps Volunteers serving in East Pakistan since October 1961 — chats with Peace Corps Representative to Pakistan F. Kingston Berlew of Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
F. Kingston Berlew, a distinguished lawyer, walked into my Peace Corps General Counsel’s office unannounced in 1961 and said that he wanted to join the Peace Corps. He had a wife and children; service as a Volunteer was out.
King sailed through the talent search with flying colors and went to Pakistan — East and West at that time — as the first Peace Corps director there. We were kindred spirits, and at his request, I conducted the close of service conferences for Pakistan I in both Dhaka and Lahore.
King then became associate Peace Corps director in charge of selection, training, and overseas support. He later led a career in international business and law and founded the World Law Group, today a network of 21,000 lawyers representing firms in 89 nations. He died in February 2021 at age 90. His brother, David Berlew, was the third Peace Corps director in Ethiopia.
Murray Frank was also a kindred spirit. In the early days of the Peace Corps, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted full-field investigations of all staff, domestic and foreign. Sarge decided that the Peace Corps should not have an identifiable security office. The task of reviewing investigations that raised issues fell to the general counsel’s office, as did liaison with other intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In Murray’s field, the identified “red flags” were numerous, generally unintended and inconsequential.
Murray began serving as a field associate Peace Corps director beginning with Nigeria I and was there for three years. He often said it was the most exciting time of his life. He distinguished himself by his concern for and rapport with the Volunteers.
He was born in 1927 and served in the Pacific during World War II; he went to New York University on the GI Bill. In 1965 he joined the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. His long and distinguished career included serving as dean of the College of Public and Community Service and as a fellow of the McCormack Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. We remained close throughout his life, talking on the telephone just a few weeks before he died in January at age 93.
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 17, 2022.
Bill Josephson is the Founding Counsel for the Peace Corps and is co-author of the memorandum “The Towering Task,” which laid out the architecture of the Peace Corps. Read his conversation with Bill Moyers, Joe Kennedy III, and Marieme Foote about the establishment of the Peace Corps in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine as well.
A wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery see more
A wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on September 22, 2021
Photography by Eli Wittum
Pictured: Honoring a legacy: Three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Colombia. From left, they are Museum of the Peace Corps Experience co-founder Patricia Wand (1963–65), former Congressman Sam Farr (1964–66), and journalist Maureen Orth (1964–66).
On the afternoon of September 22, Northern Virginia Returned Peace Corps Volunteers hosted a wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. It was an in-person event paying tribute to the idea and ideals of the Peace Corps, and the president who ensured they took flight.
From left: Pat Wand, Clintandra Thompson, and Carol Spahn. Photo by Eli Wittum
Offering remarks were Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn, Rep. John Garamendi, former Congressman Sam Farr, NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst, and Adopt a Black Peace Corps Volunteer founder Clintandra Thompson.
They spoke on the legacy of the Peace Corps and honored President Kennedy. Following speeches, attendees walked together to Kennedy’s gravesite to place a wreath and flowers.
Flowers and cake. Photography by Eli Wittum
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 17, 2022.
Letters: Readers Respond to the Summer 2021 edition of WorldView and Snapshots of Peace Corps HistoryBudget advocacy. JFK at the Cow Palace. Loan forgiveness fail. Inspirational Sarge. see more
Peace Corps Response at 25. Sarge leads the first Volunteers. Budget advocacy. Remembering 9/11 two decades later. JFK at the Cow Palace in ’60.
Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other missives: Readers respond to the stories in words and images in the Summer 2021 edition of WorldView, special digital features, and the conversation on social media.
We’re happy to hear from you there and here: email@example.com
An anniversary. A pandemic. Peace Corps Response.
Great magazine — I always read it cover to cover. Congratulations!
Big Picture: Sarge Leads
Photo courtesy John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
As a returned Volunteer who served in Iran, I can’t express how deeply Sargent Shriver’s work continues to affect my life, starting with a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer teacher from the first days of Peace Corps in junior high school to numerous friendships with a Peace Corps connection that continue to this day. This sort of service opportunity is the best of what our country has to offer our citizens and the world.
N. Bruce Nelson
In Mashraqi High School in Kandahar, Afghanistan, three Peace Corps teachers taught us English in 1971. I still know one Peace Corps member. My thanks to them.
The House of Representatives has voted to back $430.5 million in funding. They still need to bring the Senate around to backing more than flat funding for the seventh year in a row. — Ed.
Wonderful news. A lot of credit for this passage should go to the dedicated returned Volunteers who spent endless hours advocating on the Hill. After this unfortunate pause in service due to the pandemic, it is the perfect time to have adequate funding to resume Peace Corps service in countries requesting it.
Judy B. Smith
Niger 2010–11, Armenia 2011–13
I contacted Senator Feinstein’s office and Congressman Jared Huffman in regard to enhanced Peace Corps funding. We need Peace Corps more than ever now. Please don’t let JFK’s legacy fade with time. Keep up your good work. Your friend in peace.
El Salvador 1976–80
I hope the Senate, too, approves this increased budget for the Peace Corps — and the Peace Corps finds meaningful ways to provide effective service in this COVID-impacted new world.
Kul Chandra Gautam
Former Deputy Director of UNICEF; recipient of 2018 Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award
I was a month into training in Mali when it happened. The event altered our training but we continued through, and it brought everyone closer together, including our host country nationals.
Peace Corps Connect 2021
The 60th anniversary conference took place September 23–25.
I found the conference so easy to navigate, and the content throughout was excellent! Kudos for a worthwhile and memorable 60th anniversary event.
Thanks to everyone who worked to make this happen. The Asian American Pacific Islander discussion was outstanding. Thanks to the guest speakers for sharing some of their personal journeys and experiences.
Liberia 1982–84; President, San Diego World Affairs Council
Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso changed my life in many great ways. Met my wife! Professional direction toward medicine and public health! My time there taught me so much.
Jonathan Schultz, M.D., MPH
Burkina Faso 2006–09
Having served in Guatemala, and my wife in Thailand, we are proud to be among the 240,000 who have experienced “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” It was my professor of international business at University of Washington — who had been a Volunteer in Chile — who planted the seed. Though I served during politically turbulent times in Guatemala, it was the experience of my lifetime. Plus I met my wife the year I was leading the returned Volunteer group in Seattle.
J. David Snow
JFK at the Cow Palace
On November 2, we marked the anniversary of JFK’s 1960 campaign speech at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, where he used the term “Peace Corps” for the fist time and declared, “I am convinced that the pool of people in this country of ours anxious to respond to the public service is greater than it has ever been in our history.”
Photo courtesy OpenSFHistory.org
Love how he lights up the foreign service language skills (or lack thereof) in his full speech. Definitely resulted in our robust pre-service language training.
A life-changing experience for myself and hopefully for the lives I touched during my service in Malaysia. Hope to be of further service to the Peace Corps once I retire.
The Peace Corps, together with the Fulbright program and USAID, are great initiatives and success stories.
Sami Jamil Jadallah
These letters appear in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
WRITE US: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mirror the Face of Our Nation: Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International CareersThe program you may not know that inspired JFK. And how we change what America looks like abroad. see more
The past: The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. The future: How we change what America looks like abroad.
Photo: Rep. Karen Bass, who delivered welcoming remarks for the event, part of the Ronald H. Brown Series, on September 14, 2021.
On September 14, 2021, the Constituency for Africa hosted, and National Peace Corps Association sponsored, a series of conversations on “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers.” Part of the annual Ronald H. Brown Series, the event brought together leaders in government, policy, and education, as well as some key members of the Peace Corps community.
Constituency for Africa was founded and is led by Melvin Foote, who served as a Volunteer in Eritrea and Ethiopia 1973–76. In hosting the program, he noted how the Peace Corps has played an instrumental role in training members of the U.S. diplomatic community. “Unfortunately, the number of African Americans serving in the Peace Corps has always been extremely low,” he wrote. By organizing this forum, he noted that CFA is attempting to build a community of Black Americans “who served in the Peace Corps in order to have impact on U.S. policies in Africa, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere around the world, and to form a support base for African Americans who are serving, and to encourage other young people to consider going into the Peace Corps.”
Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, delivered opening remarks. “I have traveled all around Africa, as I know so many of you have,” she said. “And we would love to see the Peace Corps be far more diverse than it is now. Launching this effort now, diversity and inclusion has to be a priority for all of us, including us in Congress. And we have to continue to try and reflect all of society in every facet of our lives … I am working to pass legislation to diversify even further the State Department, and looking not just on an entry level, but on a mid-career level. This effort that you’re doing today is just another aspect of the same struggle. So let me thank you for the work that you’re doing. And of course, Mel Foote as a former Peace Corps alum, and I know his daughter is in the Peace Corps. You’re just continuing a legacy and ensuring the future that the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
“You’re continuing a legacy and making sure that in the future the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
— Karen Bass, Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Read and Explore
The 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine includes some keynote remarks and discussions that were part of the event.
Reverend Dr. Jonathan Weaver | Pastor at Greater Mt. Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church; Founder and President, Pan African Collective
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley | Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State
Aaron Williams | Peace Corps Director 2009–12
“First Comes Belonging”
Watch the Program
Remarks were also delivered by Melvin Foote, founder and CEO of Constituency for Africa; Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association; Dr. Darlene Grant, Senior Advisor to National Peace Corps Director; and Kimberly Bassett, Secretary of State for Washington, D.C., who welcomed participants on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser. Watch the entire event here.
The Constituency for Africa was founded in 1990 in Washington, D.C., when a group of concerned Africanists, interested citizens, and Africa-focused organizations developed a strategy to build organized support for Africa in the United States. CFA was charged with educating the U.S. public about Africa and U.S. policy on Africa; mobilizing an activist Constituency for Africa; and fostering cooperation among a broad-based coalition of American, African, and international organizations, as well as individuals committed to the progress and empowerment of Africa and African people.
CFA also founded and sponsors the annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series, which is held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Week each September. The series honors the late U.S. Commerce Secretary for his exemplary accomplishments in building strategic political, economic, and cultural linkages between the United States and Africa. More than 1,000 concerned individuals and organizational representatives attend each year, in order to gain valuable information and build strategic connections to tackle African and American challenges, issues, and concerns.
Lessons from the past in how to become a less polarized country once again see more
The U.S. is profoundly polarized — politically, culturally, socially, and economically. That was true during the Gilded Age, too. Halfway between then and now, John F. Kennedy exhorted his fellow Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you — but what you can do for your country.” So what happened? And how do we turn things around?
From a conversation with Shaylyn Romney Garrett
We Can Do It! image courtesy the National Museum of American History
In The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett offer a sweeping overview of U.S. history from the Gilded Age to the present, tracing how the country was transformed from an “I” society to a “we” society — and then back again.
Earlier this year we caught up with Garrett to talk about this project — which would seem to have a special resonance for the Peace Corps community. The period their data pinpoints as the pinnacle of an American sense of “we are all in this together” is the early 1960s — the same moment that gave birth to the Peace Corps.
Garrett served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan 2009–11. She is a founding contributor at Weave: The Social Fabric Project, founded by David Brooks and housed at the Aspen Institute, and she writes about rebuilding community and connection in a hyper-individualistic world. Here are edited excerpts from her conversation with WorldView editor Steven Boyd Saum.
Origins of The Upswing
A lot of people ask, “How did you come to write a book with Robert Putnam?” In the year 2000, his seminal book Bowling Alone was published. I was taking his seminar on Community in America, his foray into teaching the research behind Bowling Alone. He closes that book with a look at the Progressive Era as a potential template for how to revive communities, associations, and the social capital that he documented as having been lost over the previous half century. I was captivated by the Progressive Era, particularly the settlement movement. Some people are familiar with Jane Addams and Hull House in Chicago. But there were hundreds of settlement houses across the United States. The movement itself — sort of imported from the U.K. — sought to build bridges across lines of difference and, in a sense, offer educated, college-age people a Peace Corps–type experience within the United States. Something like AmeriCorps today.
I wrote an undergraduate thesis advised by Robert Putnam. In the subsequent 20 years, he and I have worked together on multiple projects, the last of which is The Upswing. Bob brought me into the project at a point when he had discovered a remarkable statistical finding that serves as the backbone of the book.
Bowling Alone looked at one aspect of American society — social connectedness, social ties, social cohesion — and asked: What does the trend look like over time? Looking back to roughly the 1960s, Bob saw a marked decline in measures of association, community, and social capital. It was a big finding. But it was a pretty narrow picture. So over the years, Bob started to ask: What was going on with other things — economic inequality, religion?
The Upswing incorporates four different metrics. One is social capital, a measure of how connected people are to one another in society. Another is economic inequality. Another is political polarization. The final one is culture — whether we’re more oriented toward a culture of solidarity versus a culture of individualism. It looks at the last century and then some, roughly 1900 to today. When you track those four metrics over this period, they follow the exact same trajectory. For each individual metric, the century-long trends are widely known. But Bob discovered that what scholars had largely thought of as independent phenomena are actually all part of the same century-long meta-trend — a truly striking finding.
In the early 1900s, we were a very unequal, polarized, disconnected, and narcissistic America. Over time, that turned a corner dramatically — into a multifaceted upswing, where all of those measures started moving in a positive direction for six to seven decades. Then, remarkably, in roughly the same five-year period, all of those disparate metrics turned and went the other direction. All that progress we saw over the first two-thirds of the century was reversed, landing us today in a situation remarkably similar to the one in which Americans were living in the late 1800s or early 1900s; historians call it the Gilded Age.
There are different ways you can interpret that upswing/ downturn story. One is to look at the downturn and say, “We’ve had this fall from grace. We need to make America great again. Let’s turn back the clock and go back to this mid-century America that was so wonderful.” A lot of people, particularly of the generation who lived through that period, have been putting forward that narrative. To a certain extent, that narrative culminated in sort of an ugly way with Trump’s MAGA movement.
“If we’ve been in a situation that is, by hard data, measurably identical to the one that we’re living in today — a multifaceted, deep crisis, in all sorts of areas of our society — if we’ve been here before, but we pulled up and out of it, what lessons can we learn from that period that was a downturn that turned into an upswing?”
That’s not really the story Bob or I wanted to tell about these trends. Much more powerful was to ask: “If we’ve been in a situation that is, by hard data, measurably identical to the one that we’re living in today — a multifaceted, deep crisis, in all sorts of areas of our society — if we’ve been here before, but we pulled up and out of it, what lessons can we learn from that period that was a downturn that turned into an upswing?” That becomes a story of when the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era and set us on this upward course that lasted decades. The book looks at the Progressive Era as an instructive period where we can gain inspiration, ideas, and lessons about what to do and what not to do to bring about another upswing.
ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL TRENDS, 1895–2015. Through the early 1960s, all four metrics swing upward: toward equality, bipartisanship, and a greater sense of the common good. The question: How do we move the metrics in that direction again? Courtesy Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett
I-We-I and the origins of the Peace Corps
We needed a bit of a shorthand to describe this curve — an inverted U curve: Things were bad, then they went up and got better, then they got bad again. Bob was looking for a way to track cultural trends over time — culture is a notoriously difficult thing to measure statistically — and he discovered Ngram, a database of digitized books in the English language that Google has put together. You can put in different words to track their frequency of use over time. If you put in the word “the” over this 125-year period, it would be a flat line. The incidence of the use of “the” has not changed, which makes sense. However, more culturally tied words are used more or less frequently over time, which gives us a clue about what our culture was more or less focused on during different time periods.
When we track the ratio of the first-person pronoun versus the plural pronoun — “I” and “we” — the curve looks exactly like the curve for economic inequality and polarization. Society was very “I” focused; then “we” as a pronoun became much more common during those first two-thirds of the 20th century. Then it flipped at almost the same time as all of these other curves did, to where “I” became a much more common pronoun. We’re talking about pronouns in all kinds of books, not just academic books: gardening books, cooking books, books about traveling. Mainstream culture books. It’s shocking that it really does look like that, I-we-I.
One interesting point about that moment when the Peace Corps was founded: When we look back to the ’60s we can see two more or less simultaneous phenomena. One was very communalistic, very “we” — the founding of the Peace Corps and the Great Society programs, for example. Then there’s the countercultural movement, which was much more focused on personal rights and freedoms. What’s fascinating about the historical narrative underneath the statistical findings of The Upswing is that you see clearly in the ’60s this moment when the “we” gives way to the “I.”
When John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” we often think it was like reveille for a new era. People at the time really felt it that way … like this was a call for the new and greater heights of “we” that America could move toward, including a more global “we,” which the Peace Corps is part of. However, in retrospect, what felt like reveille for a new era actually ended up being more like “Taps” sounding for an era that was closing.
When John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” we often think it was like reveille for a new era. People at the time really felt it that way. Bob Putnam was physically present at that speech and says he felt it zing throughout his entire body — like this was a call for the new and greater heights of “we” that America could move toward, including a more global “we,” which the Peace Corps is part of.
However, in retrospect, what felt like reveille for a new era actually ended up being more like “Taps” sounding for an era that was closing. We went into the ’60s with all of this energy moving toward “we,” but then there were a number of things that turned that energy into a downward trend toward “I” — such that in the 1970s, you get the “Me” Decade, as Tom Wolfe famously called it, on the heels of this president calling not only for a greater sense of “we” in the sense of civil rights, but also that global sense of what kind of influence America could have in a world that was becoming increasingly connected.
In some ways, that was the heyday of something that is now lost. But that heyday was itself the culmination of something that had been building for 60 to 70 years. Often it’s that first piece of the century that we miss. We don’t realize that America wasn’t always that “we”-focused. Quite the contrary. It took quite a while for us to build up to that apogee in American thinking that spawned things like the Peace Corps.
Only the strong survive.
How did an idea like the Peace Corps get into the atmosphere? What were the decades of work and change, and thinking — and change in language — that got us to that point? That story, again, begins back in the Gilded Age — a time, culturally speaking, that was characterized by social Darwinism. Darwin had articulated a theory about the laws that govern the natural world. Much to his chagrin, people in the social sphere began to take those ideas and say, “Survival of the fittest — this is a great way to organize society.” Essentially, society is one giant competition, there are winners and losers, and the devil take the hindmost. It’s the philosophy that spawned the robber barons and horribly exploitative situations that so many Americans — particularly immigrants and women — found themselves in during the Industrial Revolution.
Onto that scene came reformers who began to question the morality of that as an organizing principle. Jane Addams was one moral voice saying, “Something is not right about the exploitative way that we have organized our society. It’s a betrayal of our founding ideals as Americans. It’s also a betrayal of Christian ideals.”
So we began to ask whether we were really being called upon to take care of our most vulnerable, and not just work for the good of the self. That cultural transformation began to take hold. Moral outrage became the reigning narrative; people began to translate outrage into action. It wasn’t just outrage where we wanted to identify all the bad apples and expel them from society. Jane Addams realized that she had become complicit in systems that were exploitative, so she began to work in innovative ways — at the level of the neighborhood, at the level of the tenement — to try and create change. She was working at the level of individual lives, individual families, trying to help them get out of poverty and exploitative employment relationships. Ultimately, her vision became one of changing policies so that it would become illegal for these things to take place, and more social safety nets would be in place.
A lot of the reformers of the Progressive Era created narratives that we describe as “we” narratives. Over time, these really took hold: in policy, politics, economically, culturally, and socially. But there were also ways these didn’t take hold, particularly around issues of race. The “we” that was being built by Progressives was a very racialized “we.” But at the same time, Black Americans were themselves engaged in a very deep effort to build their own “we,” especially as they moved out of the South during the Great Migration — to build a deeply enmeshed society of mutual aid and care that propelled them forward despite the inequality and exclusion that persisted during the 20th century.
Looking back to this period, you might think, “This was this horribly dark moment. How could people have let it get this bad?” But look around; then you say, “Oh no, this same thing is happening again today.” During the Texas power crisis earlier this year, the mayor of one city literally said to his constituents that they were on their own, that “only the strong will survive.” This is the epitome of the “I” moment we’re living in once again as a nation. As extreme as it sounds to talk about the social Darwinism of the Gilded Age, I think that we are living through an absolute and very clear revival of that cultural mindset today.
COMMUNITY VS. INDIVIDUALISM IN AMERICA, 1890–2017. “Ask not what your country can do for you.” Were those words spoken by JFK in 1961 reveille for a new era — or “Taps” for one that was ending? Courtesy Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett
Ends and means
Not only was there a cultural self-centeredness in the Gilded Age, but there was also a deep sense of isolation and social fragmentation. So Progressives started all of these association-building initiatives to invent new ways of bringing people together. Paul Harris, founder of the Rotary Club, had moved from a small town in the Northeast to Chicago, and described himself as feeling desperately lonely as a result. So he invited a few other professionals to start getting together for lunch to create community. For him, that was an end — to satisfy his own need for connection.
But over time, a lot of reformers begin to realize that there’s real power in associations. They could do more things together than they could do alone. And as they were able to bring people together from disparate worldviews or across class lines, they built bridges and started weaving a stronger social fabric.
That same phenomenon goes on with the Peace Corps: Association is an end, in the sense of wanting to go out and meet people in another culture, have an experience that’s connected. It becomes a means because Volunteers are able to take what they learn, and those relationships, and bring them back to educate people and knit together a more cohesive world. All the research shows the power of social capital as something that’s not only good in and of itself, but also has all these positive externalities that it brings with it: in terms of the health of democracy, the mental and physical health of the people engaging in relationship. That was something that the Progressives discovered that we could look to today and emulate.
We need new ways of bringing people together to solve our problems. We have to center our efforts on that idea of relationship and connection once again.
What causes the shift?
Can we identify the main culprit behind what’s driving these massive — positive or negative — shifts? That’s the million-dollar question — both in the sense of what caused the upswing and what caused the downturn. But that’s hard to do because we’re looking at scores of data sets. It’s a little bit like looking at a flock of birds in flight: They’re all going one direction, then suddenly they change to a different direction. Which one turned first? Which was the leading edge of that change?
It’s a little easier to do with the upturn. It’s harder with the downturn. However, we do know that economics was a lagging indicator; we didn’t fix the economic inequality first. We actually fixed it last, which is very counterintuitive, particularly to people on the Left; there’s a sense that if we could just fix inequality, then we would love each other again. I think there’s a little of that mindset even in the Peace Corps: If we could just help improve the material lot of people in the developing world, that would bring all these other good things. Of course material well-being is critically important, but what’s fascinating is, the other stuff shifted first — particularly culture, both in the upswing and in the downturn.
Of course material well-being is critically important, but what’s fascinating is, the other stuff shifted first — particularly culture, both in the upswing and in the downturn.
During the upswing, those first two-thirds of the 20th century, we were not very careful in creating a “we” that was welcoming to all different kinds of Americans. It was a “we” that was heavily white, male, upper middle class. And there was a lot of pressure to conform to that ideal. So in the 1950s — a decade before you see this big pivot — you see cultural harbingers, people saying, “I don’t like this conformity that’s coming along with intensifying community.” You see Rebel Without a Cause, The Catcher in the Rye, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — cultural narratives saying there’s a cost to this hyper “we” mentality. That counter-pressure culminated in a kind of “be yourself, don’t worry about any commitments.” The response to hyper-communitarianism became hyper-individualism.
Another harbinger that we can’t fail to mention is race. This highly racialized “we” being built during the first two-thirds of the 20th century essentially meant that the upswing, as great as it was for creating positive change, had knit into it the seeds of its own demise — in the sense that the Progressives were largely racist. They created great programs to address inequality, poverty, and polarization. But they did so while kicking the racial question down the road. As a result, we’ve never really done the work of racial reconciliation. We sort of skipped over that. The New Deal very clearly sacrificed the needs of people of color in the name of progress.
At the peak of this moment — the 1960s, when the Peace Corps was founded and we passed the civil rights legislation — America was ready. Vast majorities of Americans supported the Civil Rights Acts. But the minute racial equality became about more than just laws and regulations, when it became about desegregating neighborhoods and schools, sharing resources with people whom we didn’t have to share them with before, there was a huge white backlash: a very clear “not in my backyard” phenomenon, which to me indicates that we didn’t do the hard work underneath what we were doing legally and politically. It’s hard to say whether the broader societal turn toward “I” precipitated the white backlash, or whether the white backlash fueled the broader turn toward “I.” They were certainly intertwined. It became possible for politicians to exploit white backlash to create a subtly racialized politics with a hyper-individualistic focus. Politicians began to tell Americans it was okay to just look out for number one.
And this translated into an economic mindset that it’s a zero-sum game between growth and equality: You can have equality or you can have growth, but you can’t have both. But look at the first two-thirds of the 20th century: We had high growth and growing equality. Look at material equality between the races and chart that as a ratio: Black Americans were actually doing better at a faster rate than white Americans during this period of high growth. So that idea that you can’t grow the pie and share the pie at the same time is simply false. The opposite was true during 60-odd years of the upswing.
FROM “I” TO “WE” TO “I” IN AMERICAN BOOKS, 1875–2008. First-person pronouns over the years, as tracked through Ngram. Courtesy Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett
If we needed a crisis to unify us, seems like that’s here.
One of the ways in which the 20th century often gets misinterpreted is the idea that we didn’t come together as a nation until the Great Depression and World War II. The Upswing provides a data-based story that shows quite clearly that America’s move toward solidarity did not begin with the Great Depression. It didn’t begin with the New Deal. Or World War II. It began decades earlier, and continued for decades after those acute crises.
What you actually see in the data is a dip, a pause in progress toward “we” during the Roaring Twenties and the 1930s. Then we pull ourselves back into it. Do we need a Great Depression crisis to motivate us? No, we don’t. The Progressives didn’t need it. The crises that motivated them were personal: moral moments of watching terrible things happen to their fellow Americans and feeling appalled at the realization that they had been a part of the systems that made them happen.
That being said, when you look at the American Recovery Plan passed in the spring — that wouldn’t have been possible without the pandemic. The question is whether it’s durable. Many of the policies put in place are historic in addressing the opportunity gap across lines of class and race. But many of those things are set to expire within years. And so the true test is going to be, does that policy change actually represent the manifestation of an underlying cultural and moral change? Or does that policy change represent just a panic in response to this economic crisis? Because 2008 was its own crisis. Did it prompt a new upswing? Absolutely not. We haven’t learned. And so I think a lot of the learning has to happen in our hearts, has to happen in our own sense of morality, and in our own sense of whether we really believe we’re all in this together, or whether that’s just a nice catchphrase that gets us through the crisis and back to business as usual.
INCOME EQUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES, 1913–2014. An important and clearly measurable indicator. But research for The Upswing shows it followed, not led, the other metrics. Courtesy Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett
Digital connections are not enough.
One of the reasons that I was motivated to stay in the Middle East after finishing my Peace Corps service, and to continue to build youth programming, was because we were in Jordan when the Arab Spring unfolded. The Arab Spring is a quintessential example of using Twitter to form a modern social movement — but one that’s extremely fragile. There was no organizing underneath to create something new to replace what was torn down. So in many countries, you have a resurgence of autocracy or militarization. That does hark back to: “What are the lessons from the upswing? How do we do it again today?” The biggest thing is that we can’t skip over the power of face-to-face relationship building and grassroots solution building. What I always used to say when I taught youth in Jordan was that we don’t need more revolutionaries, we need more solutionaries. That was what the American Progressives who drove the upswing believed.
We live in a moment where, particularly because of the influence of technology — specifically social media — we have this idea that new ideas for society can scale extremely fast. But unfortunately that skips over the hard work of building local capacity, connections, and relationships — social capital. Look at the Progressive Era: People didn’t just go out into the street and demand that the robber barons be stripped of their posts at these exploitive companies. They did the work of building support for regulations that would hold exploitation in check: trust-busting and consumer protection agencies. And they also put in place a new infrastructure for an economy that had a different underlying moral logic: publicly owned utilities and unionized workplaces and a progressive income tax.
My co-author and I often get asked: “Are we in the upswing yet? When can we expect the upswing to happen?” The hard answer to that is: It depends on us. If we think we’re going to engineer another upswing just by voicing outrage on social media, we’re wrong. We have to use our agency as citizens to build.
One of my heroines is Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. She was influenced by the work of people like Jane Addams. Day taught that we need to build a new society within the shell of the old. That’s very inspiring as a method. Instead of focusing our energy on tearing down the old, we need to focus on building up the new — ready to step in when the old eats itself alive. It’s certainly possible that our hyper-individualism and eroding social trust will create a collapse of institutions. We’ve seen some of that with the pandemic. What’s going to rise up to replace those defunct institutions? Answering that question with action is where the work of the upswing really happens.
The pandemic has taught us that digital connections are not enough — for either our own human needs or the needs of society. For a long time, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe the fiction that it was okay that we were letting our social fabric fall apart in the face-to-face world, because there was this other online world that was sort of going to magically replace that. But then due to the pandemic we all had to do Zoom Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we realized we need other people in the flesh, not just on a screen. It actually gives me hope that we’re starting to realize it is time to reinvest in face-to-face connection.
There are a lot of really good social innovators out there working to bring people together in physical spaces to work together on projects. That’s the other piece of this in the Peace Corps: One thing you learn quickly as a Volunteer is that the best way to build bridges is co-creating, working together on a project that everyone cares about. Folks who are pursuing initiatives like that in the United States give me a lot of hope.
I am often asked what would be my policy prescription for the administration that would help move us toward an upswing. National service is my absolute go-to answer.
Shaylyn Romney Garrett. Photo courtesy the author
But what keeps me up at night is the fact that there are a lot of countervailing forces working against this positive change. For every good green shoot that we see, there’s a lot of shadow and darkness. I think it happened with the contested election, and on January 6. It keeps happening with debates about masks and vaccines.
Whether things tip or not is really about critical mass. How do you get all the people who are sitting on the sidelines to get in there and work toward pushing us back toward the light? I think that was the story of the Progressive Era. People always ask, “What was the moment that the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era?” There was no clear historical moment. There were all these forces working for good and all these countervailing forces working to tear that down. Ultimately the good won out because people put in enough energy to push it up and over.
I am often asked what would be my policy prescription for the administration that would help move us toward an upswing. National service is my absolute go-to answer. As both a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and a proponent of learning the lessons of history, I am deeply supportive of the idea that creating incentives and opportunities for millions of young people to work together for the good of our nation should be a top priority. This could help us address not only economic inequality, but also polarization, cultural narcissism, and social fragmentation — all the aspects of our current multifaceted crisis. And I think the Peace Corps in particular has a lot to say about how national service could help Americans turn a corner by rediscovering a sense of solidarity — a “we” — as well as find purpose and a sense of American identity that could lead us in a new direction.
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 17, 2022.
READ MORE: “A Life-Altering Detour” — Shaylyn Romney Garrett tells the story of how serving in the Peace Corps led her to work on a national education project in Jordan.
The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. see more
The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. And that has been sending U.S. volunteers abroad since 1958.
By Reverend Dr. Jonathan Weaver
The man who was the visionary behind Crossroads Africa, Dr. James Robinson, in many ways has not gotten the recognition he deserves. Dr. Robinson first traveled to Africa in 1954 on behalf of the Presbyterian Foreign Missions Board and saw sweeping changes taking place throughout the continent. He went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he was introduced to several giants in African history: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who later served as the first president of Nigeria; and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who led the Gold Coast to independence from Great Britain and served as first president and prime minister of Ghana.
After his 1954 trip, Dr. Robinson started talking to students at colleges across the United States. In 1957, talking to students at Occidental College in California, he shared his vision of young people who would engage in experiences with counterparts. The students said, We’re ready to go. Operation Crossroads Africa was established in 1958. Volunteers went to Ghana and Liberia.
Dr. James Robinson, center, envisioned a program of young people “building bridges of friendship to Africa.” Photo courtesy Operation Crossroads Africa
In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected, he learned about the work of Operation Crossroads Africa. He also had an opportunity to meet Haskell Ward, who first went to Africa with Operation Crossroads in 1962. Ward went on to serve as a Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia 1963–65 and as director of recruitment and selection for Operation Crossroads Africa 1967–69. He later worked for the Ford Foundation and became deputy mayor of New York City.
James Robinson said that the darkest thing about Africa is America’s ignorance of it.
What struck me about Dr. Robinson was his passion for wanting to connect people from the United States with the people of Africa. Several things that he said have stayed with me from the time that I served as a volunteer in 1971. He said that the darkest thing about Africa is America’s ignorance of it. Tragically, I believe that most of us would have to agree that statement still has a great deal of relevance today. He also said: While you may leave Africa, Africa will never leave you. Certainly that’s true for those of us who have been Crossroaders — about 13,000 since 1958.
There is no doubt Dr. Robinson had a tremendous influence on the creation of the Peace Corps. In June 1962, President Kennedy hosted the Crossroaders on the South Lawn at the White House. Talking about some of the many difficulties facing emerging nations in Africa — and the greatest concerns among the leaders of a dozen new nations he had met — Kennedy said, “The problems they face today, in every case, they have told me, were far more difficult than the problems they faced in the fight for independence. Now that problem is to maintain that national sovereignty and independence and make it worthwhile, because disillusionment is the second wave that comes after the wave of enthusiasm.” Kennedy paid particular tribute to Crossroads by saying the volunteers in this effort really were “the progenitors of the Peace Corps.”
White House meeting, 1962: Before a gathering of volunteers for Operation Crossroads Africa, James Robinson talks with John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Photo courtesy Operation Crossroads Africa
WHAT CROSSROADS HAS BEEN DOING for a number of years led to the establishment of what I consider to be the most encouraging indication of the desire for service — not only in this country, but all around the world — that we have seen in recent years. Dr. Robinson became an advisor for the Peace Corps. And many other people have been directly influenced by that Crossroads experience.
I’ve spent my life ever since volunteering — now 50 years — very much involved in Africa because of Dr. Robinson. Crossroads is still in existence and working to promote understanding of Africa and the African diaspora. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, no volunteer groups went out last year or this year. My hope and my prayer is that there will be teams going out in 2022. Dr. James A. Robinson transitioned in 1972. But his vision, his legacy, lives on.
These remarks were delivered on September 14, 2021, as part of “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers,” a series of conversations hosted by the Constituency for Africa and sponsored by National Peace Corps Association. They appear in the 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine.
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Weaver is pastor of the Greater Mt. Nebo AME Church in Bowie, Maryland. Reverend Weaver previously served as director of development for Operations Crossroads Africa. He is the founder and president of the Pan African Collective, whose mission is to build bridges of understanding, forge diverse partnerships, and promote economic and social development in Africa and other places.
Steven Saum posted an articleSome 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.
“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
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.
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.
“How many of you are willing?” JFK’s campaign speech at the University of Michigan presents the idea of the Peace Corps.
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.
JFK at the Cow Palace. Photo courtesy OpenSFHistory.org
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.”
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.
Executive Order 10924 establishes the Peace Corps. Sargent Shriver is appointed its first director on March 4.
Bay of Pigs invasion
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin training for Colombia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Ghana.
Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom.
Berlin Wall erected overnight.
Sargent Shriver leads the first groups of Peace Corps Volunteers to the Rose Garden for a send-off by President Kennedy.
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives at Accra Airport in Ghana.
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.”
Newsweek magazine cover: “Peace Corps in Action: Ira Gwin”
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.
There are 2,816 Volunteers in the field.
Nations gaining independence from Britain, France, and Belgium: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda
Cuban Missile Crisis
Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps appear on the cover of Time.
At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech.
President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas.
Kenya gains independence from Great Britain.
In State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson announces a “War on Poverty” in the U.S.
Mr. Ed the talking horse wants to join the Peace Corps.
Freedom Summer voter registration drive
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.
Malcolm X assassinated in New York.
The Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights begins — is met with brutal force by police.
LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah overthrown by a military coup.
Sargent Shriver steps down as Peace Corps director. LBJ appoints Jack Vaughn director.
15,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving — the highest number yet. That record still holds.
Guyana, Botswana, and Lesotho gain independence from Great Britain.
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.
“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.
Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam.
Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis.
Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles.
Soviet Union leads Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends and end the “Prague Spring.”
Joseph Blatchford appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
June 28–July 3
Apollo 11 moon landing
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
First Earth Day
President Nixon orders U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia.
Members of Ohio National Guard fire into crowd of demonstrators at Kent State University; four are killed, nine wounded.
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.
Greenpeace founded in Canada.
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.
Executive Order 11603: President Nixon folds the Peace Corps into a new federal volunteer agency, ACTION. Kevin O’Donnell is appointed Peace Corps director.
The first Peace Corps stamp is issued in the U.S.
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.
Donald Hess appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
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.
Nick Craw appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
Endangered Species Act signed into law.
President Nixon resigns.
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie deposed following a Marxist military coup.
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).
John Dellenback appointed Peace Corps director by President Ford.
Saigon falls to communist troops from North Vietnam. Mozambique and Comoros gain independence from Portugal and France.
The Concorde takes flight — first supersonic commercial air travel.
The United States celebrates its bicentennial.
Apple II computer, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 introduced, beginning the personal computer craze.
South African activist Steve Biko dies after suffering a massive head injury in police custody.
Carolyn Robertson Payton appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter. She is the first woman and first Black American to serve in that role.
Iranian Revolution begins. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran will be stormed in November 1979.
Rainbow (Gay Pride) flag created by Gilbert Baker.
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.
Richard F. Celeste appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter.
Executive Order 12137: President Carter grants the Peace Corps full autonomy.
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
World Health Assembly declares that smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.
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.
Loret Miller Ruppe appointed Peace Corps director by President Reagan. She serves eight years, more than any other director before or since.
First case of AIDS identified. In U.S. it is initially called “gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).”
Belize gains independence from Great Britain.
Legislation grants Peace Corps its independence as an agency.
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.
The Internet is born when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) adopts the standard TCP/IP protocol of the World Wide Web.
Peace Corps establishes the Small Project Assistance (SPA) program.
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh.
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.
Loret Miller Ruppe signs a letter of agreement establishing the Coverdell Fellows Program with founder Dr. Beryl Levinger (Colombia 1967–69).
For the first time in Peace Corps history, more women than men begin service as Volunteers.
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
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.”
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.
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.
Black Monday on the U.S. stock market. Dow plummets 508 points, more than 22 percent.
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.
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.
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.
Civil war begins in Liberia, pitting Charles M. Taylor against former subordinate Prince Johnson. Fighting lasts until 1996.
You’ve got mail: In 1993, Fiji celebrates the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in communities there. Courtesy David Downes
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.
Nelson Mandela freed from prison in South Africa after 27 years.
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin serving in Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
Iraq invades Kuwait.
LGBT RPCV formed in Washington, D.C.
First Gulf War begins, with a U.S.-led coalition driving invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
First website appears on World Wide Web.
Elaine Chao appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Soviet Union dissolves.
Former Peace Corps medical officer Mae Jemison travels into space on Shuttle Endeavor. She is first Black American woman in space.
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.
Following a referendum, Eritrea breaks away from Ethiopia to become an independent nation.
AmeriCorps established by the National and Community Service Trust Act, creating a “domestic Peace Corps.”
Carol Bellamy (Guatemala 1963–65) sworn in as Peace Corps director. She is the first Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to hold the post.
European Union becomes reality.
A new constitution takes effect in South Africa, officially ending the apartheid system.
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.
Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania create Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
Mark D. Gearan appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
Peace Corps sends three Volunteers to Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis — a step toward creation of Crisis Corps.
Crisis Corps officially launched at a Rose Garden ceremony to send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on short-term, high-impact assignments.
Scientists in Scotland clone Dolly the Sheep — the first cloning of a mammal.
Kofi A. Annan becomes Secretary General of the U.N. He is the first sub-Saharan African to hold the post.
First cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives in South Africa.
In Menlo Park, California, grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin launch search engine Google.
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.
First commercial camera phone introduced.
Mark L. Schneider (El Salvador 1966–68) appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
“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
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.
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.
A U.S.-led coalition begins a bombing campaign against Afghanistan and later begins a ground offensive.
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.
U.S. invades Iraq; second Gulf War begins.
Sequence mapping of the human genome is completed.
The Peace Corps commits an additional 1,000 Volunteers to fight HIV/AIDS.
The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience project is introduced at the National Peace Corps Association Group Leaders annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Disputed parliamentary elections in nation of Georgia lead to the Rose Revolution.
Disputed presidential elections in Ukraine lead to the Orange Revolution.
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.
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.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becomes the first African woman to lead an African nation when she is elected president of Liberia.
Atlas Corps founded to bring individuals on service fellowships to the U.S., earning reputation as a “reverse Peace Corps.”
The International Astronomical Union demotes Pluto to the status of dwarf planet.
Ronald A. Tschetter (India 1966–68) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Apple debuts the iPhone.
Peace Corps Prep program inaugurated at select U.S. colleges.
Crisis Corps is renamed Peace Corps Response — a name that better captures the broad range of assignments Volunteers are undertaking.
Peace Corps returns to Liberia after an absence of nearly two decades.
Barack Obama inaugurated president. National Peace Corps Association leads returned Volunteers in the inaugural parade.
After leaving Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Peace Corps Volunteers return to begin working in secondary education and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Kate Puzey, a Volunteer in Benin, is murdered after reporting the sexual abuse of girls within her community by a Peace Corps staff member.
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.
Aaron S. Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
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
Total number of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served surpasses 200,000.
National Peace Corps Association introduces new logo.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti, killing some 200,000.
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.
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.
50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. The agency reopens programs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.
ABC news program “20/20” airs “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed,” telling the story of Kate Puzey.
Peace Corps releases 50th-anniversary commemorative print by artist Shepard Fairey.
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.
Egypt’s first competitive presidential election. Mohamed Morsi wins. After months of protests, he is overthrown in a coup in July 2013.
RPCV and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens killed in attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
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.
Peace Corps approves assignments for same-sex partners.
Nelson Mandela dies.
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. Russia seizes Crimea and then backs separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine.
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.
Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize.
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.
U.S. Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage is legal.
Peace Corps receives 23,000 applications during the fiscal year, breaking 40-year record.
Terror attacks in Paris kill 130, wound 494. ISIS claims responsibility.
Peace Corps logo gets a makeover, alongside a refreshed brand platform and new website.
#MeToo movement gains prominence after widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
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.
Dr. Josephine (Jody) K. Olsen (Tunisia 1966–68) is sworn in as Peace Corps director.
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.
National Peace Corps Association marks its 40th anniversary.
“A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” documentary premieres at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Peace Corps announces the “graduation” of the program in China.
World Health Organization declares COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unprecedented decision, all Peace Corps Volunteers are evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19.
Killing of George Floyd sparks national and then global protests against racial injustice.
Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen announces Peace Corps program to launch in Viet Nam in 2022.
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 launches Virtual Service Pilot program for evacuated Volunteers to continue working with countries where they were serving.
A violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol attempts to stop the certification of the presidential election.
Carol Spahn (Romania 1994–96) assumes responsibilities as acting director of the Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68). It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades.
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.
Last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, after two decades of fighting.
NPCA hosts 60th-anniversary Peace Corps Connect. The theme: “Mobilizing for a Lifetime of Service and Impact.”
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.
1961 | Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania)
1962 | Afghanistan, 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
1963 | Costa Rica, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Malawi, Morocco, Panama, Uruguay
1964 | Kenya, Uganda
1966 | Botswana, Chad, Grenada, Guyana, Republic of Korea, Libya, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau, Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis
1967 | Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Dominica, The Gambia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Samoa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga
1968 | Barbados, Benin, Fiji, Nicaragua
1969 | Mauritius, Swaziland (now Eswatini)
1970 | Malta, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo)
1971 | Mali, Solomon Islands
1972 | Central African Republic (CAR)
1973 | Oman, Yemen
1974 | Bahrain, Kiribati, Montserrat, Seychelles
1975 | Rwanda
1977 | Tuvalu
1980 | Anguilla, Turks and Caicos
1981 | Papua New Guinea
1982 | Cook Islands, Haiti
1983 | Burundi
1984 | Sudan
1986 | Marshall Islands
1988 | Cape Verde, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau
1990 | Czechoslovakia (now Czechia and Slovakia), Hungary, Namibia, Poland, São Tomé and Príncipe, Vanuatu
1991 | Bulgaria, Republic of the Congo, Mongolia, Romania, Zimbabwe
1992 | Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
1993 | China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Moldova, Turkmenistan
1994 | Niue, Zambia
1995 | Eritrea, Suriname
1996 | Macedonia (now North Macedonia)
1997 | Jordan, South Africa
1998 | Bangladesh, Mozambique
2000 | Bosnia and Herzegovina
2001 | Georgia
2002 | Timor-Leste
2003 | Azerbaijan
2004 | Mexico
2007 | Cambodia
2014 | Kosovo
2016 | Myanmar
2020 | Montenegro
2022 | Viet 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.
Peace Corps beginnings — with Bill Josephson, Bill Moyers, Joe Kennedy III, and Marieme Foote see more
When President John F. Kennedy signed the Peace Corps Act into law, it permanently established the Peace Corps as an independent agency. But forging the legislation and getting it through Congress didn’t happen on their own. We take a look at those beginnings and share some stories few have heard. And we look ahead to what the Peace Corps must become.
A conversation with Bill Josephson, Bill Moyers, Joe Kennedy III, and Marieme Foote
The legislation that established the Peace Corps on a permanent basis, the Peace Corps Act, was signed by President John F. Kennedy in an Oval Office ceremony at 9:45 a.m. on September 22, 1961. On the day JFK signed the act, three groups of Volunteers were already in their countries of service: Colombia, Ghana, and St. Lucia.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the signing, National Peace Corps Association hosted a conversation with two key figures in the establishment of the Peace Corps — and one Volunteer who was evacuated in 2020, and whose commitment to the ideas and ideals of the organization points to the Peace Corps of the future. The conversation was moderated by Joe Kennedy III — JFK’s great-nephew and himself a returned Volunteer who, while he served in Congress, championed the creation of the Peace Corps Commemorative, which will establish a place in the heart of the nation’s capital to symbolize what the Peace Corps represents.
Here are edited excerpts. You can also listen to the conversation on Spotify.
Co-architect of the Peace Corps and Founding Counsel for the agency
Photo by Rowland Scherman
Journalist and first Associate Director of the Peace Corps
Photo by Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library
Joe Kennedy III
Former Congressman and Peace Corps Volunteer in Dominican Republic 2004–06
Photo courtesy Joe Kennedy III
Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin 2018–20; Donald Payne Fellow at Georgetown University
Photo courtesy Marieme Foote
“The Towering Task”
Joe Kennedy III: Walk us through those early days — taking an idea, translating that into legislation, getting members of Congress around it.
Bill Josephson: My colleague Warren W. Wiggins said that we needed to make an impact with this administration. The Peace Corps was what everyone asked us for our opinion about. The result was the writing over Christmas and New Year’s of 1960–61 the memo “The Towering Task,” and the distribution of it to as many people as we could find who would read it, including Harris Wofford. Harris describes walking into Sargent Shriver’s office, carrying “The Towering Task” and saying to Sarge this is something he ought to read — only to find Sarge was already reading it.
Joe Kennedy III: There’s a story I’ve heard about getting the bill signed into law that involves you and a number of senators in a cloakroom, some chicken scratch on a piece of paper, a clerk to type something up, a couple of taxicabs … And lo and behold, the Peace Corps was born.
Bill Josephson: Roger Kuhn was principal draftsperson of the Peace Corps Act. I was an important kibitzer and the upfront person in House and Senate hearings. The bill went to the Hill without a lot of changes from the White House or the budget division, and was introduced by Hubert Humphrey in the Senate and the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Doc Morgan of Pennsylvania. This was a genuine bipartisan effort. We enjoyed strong support from Republicans. Two women on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Marguerite Stitt Church of Illinois and Elizabeth Bolton of Ohio — strong, traditional Republicans — were amazingly persuasive supporters of the Peace Corps.
This was a genuine bipartisan effort … Two women on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Marguerite Stitt Church of Illinois and Elizabeth Bolton of Ohio — strong, traditional Republicans — were amazingly persuasive supporters of the Peace Corps.
Joe Kennedy III: Tell us how you were able to get such a big idea through Congress. At the moment, ideas are difficult to get through, to put it mildly.
Bill Moyers: There remains to this day, 60 years later, a certain vibrancy among people who were involved in the Peace Corps. It has really been a marvelous moment in American history. Lord knows so many people had talked about something like this from the beginning!
In 1950, Walter Reuther, head of the United Auto Workers, proposed a kind of tech corps of young people who would go abroad. Maurice Albertson, who had done pioneering work in mechanics and hydraulics, wrote a draft of a Point Four youth program. Hubert Humphrey introduced the first bill in 1957. He said he got no enthusiasm. Reverend James Robinson of Crossroads Africa founded that program with an eye that could have well been on a future Peace Corps. This was an American idea that rose among the ranks of people who did not hesitate to call themselves idealists but knew how to pass bills in Congress; that made a big difference.
Sarge gave me the job of associate director for public affairs. I had three portfolios: one, Congressional relations; two, public affairs — news, press, and advertising; and three, recruiting. When Bill Josephson and Warren Wiggins and those who helped them drafted the legislation, they sent Sarge and me up to the Hill to sell it. We had to persuade a Congress that contained many advocates for the Peace Corps — but also some real opponents.
We first called on a handful of friends: Hubert Humphrey and Congressman Henry Reuss from Wisconsin, who had proposed a Peace Corps along with Humphrey. We wanted our friends to stand and fight for us. As Sarge and I prowled Capitol Hill, we decided to call on every member of Congress. I think we made it, with the exception of one.
He was literally known as “Otto the Terrible” because he was so opposed to any foreign aid, except that which took a brickbat and tried to hit a communist over the head. He called the Peace Corps a “kiddie corps.”
We went to known adversaries of the Peace Corps — those who had declared opposition before they knew what it was. One was a congressman born in 1916, Otto Passman. He was literally known as “Otto the Terrible” because he was so opposed to any foreign aid, except that which took a brickbat and tried to hit a communist over the head. He called the Peace Corps a “kiddie corps.” He got Congressman H.R. Gross, an influential conservative from Iowa, on his side, and he called it a utopian playground.
I went first to see Otto Passman, because I was from the South. He was from a deeply Southern and segregationist district in Louisiana, not far from my hometown across the Texas border. I got my congressman, populist Wright Patman of East Texas, to call Otto the Terrible and say he was sending this kid over to see him and say, “Just listen to him.” I went over and Passman said, “What do you want to talk to me about?” I said, “I just am here to arrange a meeting with the future director of the Peace Corps.” “I don’t want to see any future director of the Peace Corps. I just want to veto the thing when it comes to my desk.” I said, “Don’t you want to sit down with the president’s brother-in-law and talk about this?” There was silence. He said, “The president’s brother-in-law?” I said, “Yes, Sargent Shriver, who is John Kennedy’s brother-in-law, married to Eunice, is going to head the Peace Corps, and he would like to come see you.”
That was an appeal to Otto the Terrible. He saw Shriver, and Shriver knew instantly what to talk about, because we had done our homework. While he didn’t want to hear about the Peace Corps, we wanted to talk to him about what it meant to be an entrepreneur. Sarge walked in and started talking to the Congressman about how he had started a business during the Depression selling refrigerators and other hotel and business equipment. Passman said, “How did you know that?” Sarge said, “I used to run the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, and we saw a lot of refrigerators and other things like that pass through. I was just wondering how you managed to do that in the Depression.”
Otto melted a little. He gave us a long visit that day. We probably paid more visits to Otto Passman, chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Funding Committee in the House, than any other Congressman. We never brought him around. But word spread quickly that Sarge had been given the courtesy of extended and frequent visits to Passman, and that turned into a lot of goodwill. When the legislation passed, we got some 90 Republican votes in the House; very few who had stood up and condemned it before they knew anything about it, protested. They didn’t vote for us, but they didn’t fight us tooth and nail. The legislation sailed through the Senate.
There was never a better salesman, never a better idealist at explaining what an ideal is, than Sargent Shriver.
There was never a better salesman, never a better idealist at explaining what an ideal is, than Sargent Shriver. He could adjust very quickly to the mood, interest, and concerns of a member of Congress. We sat down with the member of Congress, and their staff asked questions. By the time it was over, I don’t think there was a program in Washington that had a better aura around it. And we had the young, dynamic president behind us.
The moment: September 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy (laughing) signs HR 7500, the Peace Corps Bill, in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. Looking on (from left): Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island (in back); Director of the Peace Corps, R. Sargent Shriver; Senator Philip A. Hart of Michigan (in back); Representative Edna Kelly of New York; Representative Chester Merrow of New Hampshire; Representative Thomas F. Johnson of Maryland (in back); Representative Clement Zablocki of Wisconsin; Representative Wayne L. Hays of Ohio (partially hidden behind Representative Zablocki); Representative Leslie C. Arends of Illinois (in back, facing right); Representative Roman C. Pucinski of Illinois; Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota; Representative Silvio O. Conte of Massachusetts (in back); Representative Thomas E. Morgan of Pennsylvania; Representative Cornelius E. Gallagher of New Jersey; Representative Sidney R. Yates of Illinois. Photo by Abbie Rowe / White House, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
An important factor: We asked President Kennedy to ask Vice President Lyndon Johnson — for whom I had worked — to be chairman of the Peace Corps Advisory Committee. Johnson had been director of Franklin Roosevelt’s National Youth Program in Texas 1935–37. He had done the best job in the country of all the state directors. Johnson gave us the time we needed when the State Department and the Agency for International Development tried to take over the Peace Corps and turn it into just another box on the bureaucratic chart. Johnson explained patiently to Sarge and me how the bureaucracy worked. He had seen it for 30-some years. “Here’s what you have to watch out for. Here’s how you have to turn the corner without running into somebody.” Two and a half hours later, we knew what to do. We went and talked about preserving the independence of the Peace Corps, which Josephson and Wiggins had said was so essential. Every time we needed help on the Hill, the vice president came through.
During the campaign of 1960, I had served as the liaison between the traveling teams. For Johnson, my job was to coordinate logistics, prepare speeches, answer questions to keep us on track. Every day I was in touch with some member of the traveling Kennedy campaign — most often Kenny O’Donnell, his closest political advisor. When it came time for me to want to go to the Peace Corps after the election, both Kennedy and Johnson said no, because then who would interpret Austin to Boston? I persuaded Ken O’Donnell to persuade President Kennedy to let me go. It’s the best move of my life, and to this day I am deeply indebted to JFK and LBJ.
Bill Josephson: A little known fact: Bill Moyers is the drafter of the first public speech favoring the founding of the Peace Corps, even before the Michigan speech of Kennedy. Johnson gave a speech advocating the creation of the Peace Corps in Lincoln, Nebraska, two weeks before the Michigan moment. The speech was drafted by Bill Moyers. My wife is Nebraskan; she knows about that event.
When Lyndon Johnson read the speech that had been drafted for him he said, “I can’t deliver this stuff. It’s crap.” He said, “Write something stirring.”
Bill Moyers: There was a speech we had received by wire from headquarters in Washington. We were on the plane and had just taken off from Hampton, New York, headed for Lincoln, Nebraska. Johnson said, “I can’t deliver this stuff. It’s crap.” He said, “Write something stirring.” The proposal he made, based on that speech, was called a Youth Corps. I wish I’d used the phrase “Peace Corps,” but that hadn’t occurred to me. But it was a great event — and promptly lost to history.
“You wanted to be independent, you’re independent.”
Joe Kennedy III: I’ve often said there wasn’t a single day when I was serving in Congress that I didn’t draw on my experience as a Volunteer. It wasn’t so much the language skills, speaking Spanish; it was understanding that if you want to bring people together to achieve a common goal, they need to be active participants in that process, and you need to help create the circumstances to allow people to buy in and hear them out. You mentioned trying to keep the agency independent. That issue came up when I was serving in Congress, an effort to try to subsume the Peace Corps within the State Department.
Bill Josephson: One of the arguments was that the State Department and the to-be-transformed International Cooperation Administration — which would become USAID — regarded the Peace Corps as a gem, as opposed to what they did, which did not enjoy anything like broad support, either in Congress or in the nation. Foreign aid was — and to some extent, still is — the stepchild. They coveted the Peace Corps. Sarge and Warren and Bill and I felt that the Peace Corps, to succeed, had not to be any part of the foreign affairs bureaucracy or Cold War programs of the United States. Legislation was the vehicle for independence.
There was a climactic meeting in the White House. I was there. Also present was Ralph Dungan, an important member of the White House staff; and the director of the budget, David Bell. We waited to see the president but didn’t get in. Ralph purported to resolve the issue against the Peace Corps and in favor of the State Department and the foreign aid programs. Bill Moyers then went to the vice president. The vice president had a private meeting with President Kennedy later that day, and persuaded him — in the way that Lyndon Johnson uniquely could persuade people — to make the Peace Corps an independent agency. Ralph called me the next morning to tell me this decision. I said, “Well, I’d like to come over and smoke the pipe of peace with you. We’re going to be working together for a long time.” He said very clearly, “Uh uh. You wanted to be independent, you’re independent. Don’t come running to us when you’re in trouble!”
“Already more than 13,000 Americans have offered their services to the Peace Corps.” President John F. Kennedy delivers remarks after signing HR 7500, the Peace Corps Bill, in the Oval Office, White House, on September 22, 1961. Looking on (from left): Representative Edna Kelly of New York; Representative Clement Zablocki of Wisconsin; Senator Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma (in back); Representative Roman C. Pucinski of Illinois; Representative Silvio O. Conte of Massachusetts (in back); Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota; Representative Thomas E. Morgan of Pennsylvania; Representative Cornelius E. Gallagher of New Jersey; Representative Sidney R. Yates of Illinois; Representative Harris B. McDowell of Delaware (in back, in shadow); Senator Clair Engle of California (partially hidden); Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee; unidentified man in back; Senator Jacob Javits of New York; Senator Thomas H. Kuchel of California; Representative John Brademas of Indiana; Senator John A. Carroll of Colorado; Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky; Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois; Representative Carl Albert of Oklahoma. Photo by Abbie Rowe / White House, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Bill Moyers: There is another point to be made — slightly less lofty: You can hardly channel the imagination up an organization chart, nor can the imagination flow downward through an organization chart. Along the way, there are other people charged with responsibilities and duties that cause them to hack away at that passion to reduce it to their grasp. To persuade Congress to support you, go up unencumbered by other people’s mistakes and less desirable thoughts. Make your case, and stand and fall on what you can say about what I, Sargent Shriver, am going to be responsible for — and if you don’t understand this, you can count on me to keep my word to Congress.
Those powerful barons in Congress who opposed the Peace Corps considered us naive, if not harebrained. You couldn’t have sent a 25-year veteran of the bureaucracy to give a tutorial. One morning I took Sarge to have coffee with the vice president. Johnson called me later and said: “The way to sell the Peace Corps is to sell Shriver. They won’t be able to resist him.” And they weren’t. Most were dazzled to be courted by the president’s charismatic brother-in-law, not some long-standing official from the bureaucracy.
I saw jaded politicians begin to pay attention as Sarge talked about America’s revolutionary ideas and our mission to carry them out in the world as down to earth, believable: card-carrying idealists who can show how freedom is served by a teacher in a classroom, clean water from a pump in the village square.
I’m not damning the bureaucracy. It is central to the running of our government. And what turned the tide was not Sarge’s glamour but his passion. I saw jaded politicians begin to pay attention as Sarge talked about America’s revolutionary ideas and our mission to carry them out in the world as down to earth, believable: card-carrying idealists who can show how freedom is served by a teacher in a classroom, clean water from a pump in the village square.
One old unreconstructed racist, whose chairmanship of a key subcommittee could have meant life or death for our appropriation, was aghast that young Americans living and working abroad under official auspices might not only practice miscegenation but bring it home with them. Only Shriver could answer that — not a schedule C appointee in the Agency for International Development. Because when that congressman made the case that if Volunteers went abroad, they’d come back and marry interracially, Sarge never blinked. He said, “Congressman, surely you can trust young Americans to do abroad exactly what they would do back in your district in Louisiana.” That left the man scratching his head. When I returned later, for a follow-up call, his secretary told me he had confessed, “I was had.”
You can’t get that from — bless their hearts — career people who’ve had so much drained from them by compromise over the years. It took this man making the case and saying, “Believe in me, because I believe in the Peace Corps.”
John F. Kennedy’s remarks on signing the Peace Corps Act. Courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
We carry two passports.
Joe Kennedy III: I’m struck not only by the power of the idea but the relentlessness and optimism its champions demonstrated. Given your experience in the Peace Corps’ conception, implementation, and development — and looking back over these 60 years — what does the Peace Corps mean to you?
Bill Josephson: The essence of the Peace Corps is service. That’s a concept we emphasized over and over. You could see it in the reaction of the University of Michigan students to President Kennedy’s off-the-cuff speech. You could see it in the flow of applications that followed the announcement of the Peace Corps. You can see it in what more than 250,000 Volunteers did in service, and continue to do in serving those ideals after their Peace Corps service.
Relieve misery, nurture minds, inspire others, crack open a little further the gates long shut by ignorance, bigotry, or just sheer misunderstanding.
Bill Moyers: What I take away is that America must always try to put its best foot forward. We will never know the prints it leaves — but we know that we still are trying as human beings to do our best in the world as patriots and as citizens of the world.
Sarge taught me that we carry two passports: one grounded in the soil of American democracy, which he served five years in the navy to defend; another as a global citizen. He believed that seeing a person could be as important as any institution — could relieve misery, could nurture minds, inspire others, and could crack open a little further the gates long shut by ignorance, bigotry, or just sheer misunderstanding. When I was his deputy, he gave me a copy of Chaim Potok’s The Promise and highlighted this paragraph: “Human beings don’t live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value there is to human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than a blink of an eye? I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye itself is nothing. The span of life is nothing; but the man or woman who lives that span, they are something. They can fill that tiny span with memory so that its quality is immeasurable.”
I believe almost every Peace Corps Volunteer has discovered that about him or herself. And what they did was immeasurable, and unforgettable.
All those years later, he just wanted to pass along that gratitude. He never asked my name, where I was from, what I was doing. He just wanted to take a moment to credit that individual.
Joe Kennedy III: When somebody asks me what Peace Corps service is all about, I often share the story of being on an overcrowded bus on my way back into Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, when I got a tap on my shoulder. An older gentleman asked if I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was surprised and asked how he knew. He looked at me like I was crazy. Why else would I possibly be in the back of a crowded bus in the Dominican Republic? And he said, Thank you. Because when he was a little boy, there was another Volunteer sent to his village who put in a pipe to provide clean water to his community. He never got a chance, as a child, to be able to say thank you. All those years later, he just wanted to pass along that gratitude. He never asked my name, where I was from, what I was doing. He just wanted to take a moment to credit that individual. That matters.
New and enduring
Joe Kennedy III: We talked about the past and the roots of the Peace Corps. One of my mentors, Senator Chris Dodd, talked about the early days of the Peace Corps and getting dropped down in the Dominican Republic himself and picked up two years later. The world has changed now that everybody has a smartphone.
Marieme Foote: The Peace Corps was created on the heels of the civil rights movement. So much has changed in the past 60 years. My father, Mel Foote, served in Ethiopia in the 1970s. He had to drive to the village next door, hours away, to place a phone call at a post office to speak with his parents — maybe five times in his service. I had 4G in my village. I could stream Netflix. Look at the world around us — and conversations around racial justice, equity, class — and how this should affect the Peace Corps. These things are all connected. We have more Volunteers coming from diverse backgrounds, who are first generation, whose parents were served by Peace Corps Volunteers. My mother was served by Peace Corps Volunteers in Senegal. You see also a need for the Peace Corps itself to change; it can’t remain the same as it was in the ’60s. That’s a good thing. It was created as a radical, beautiful concept. National Peace Corps Association put out the report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” last year, which brought out important issues that Volunteers today are facing, and ways we can support Volunteers and better serve communities. Those are questions we need to ask.
Look at the world around us — and conversations around racial justice, equity, class — and how this should affect the Peace Corps. These things are all connected.
Joe Kennedy III: In the early 2000s, I had to get on a bus to go into town to check email and such — but I was still in more or less consistent contact with my family; they could call a cellphone that worked. That constant flow of communication creates challenges, obviously. It also creates enormous opportunities when looking at climate change and the need to make changes and investments at the hyperlocal level. There’s an opportunity to leapfrog technologies and help make a dramatic impact, whether it’s climate resiliency, access to water, electricity, connectedness. There’s a huge opportunity for the Peace Corps as an organization to start to think: How do we leverage those opportunities that come with technology? How do we think through opportunities for partnerships — when obviously with COVID, we’ve seen that impacts around global health are hugely consequential? How can we leverage people on the ground in these communities, with the backing of the people of the United States, to make a long-term, sustained impact?
Marieme Foote: In my village, a lot of people didn’t have access to electricity; solar panels and renewable energy changed that. Among Volunteers I know, everyone has WhatsApp; they’re able to continue conversations overseas from the U.S., and a lot are working on projects with their communities and raising funds — creating educational centers, building resources for communities — all through the internet.
Joe Kennedy III: I’m struck by that, particularly when we talk about the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. Peace Corps can be leveraged to make an impact in communities overseas. But this also means a Volunteer coming home, engaging in teaching or an after-school program, being able to create a connection with a community the entire world away. We’ve all run into that challenge of somebody saying, “Oh, you just came out of the Peace Corps. How was it?” As if you could sum up the last two years of your life in 20 seconds. This enables us to actually be able to show those connections and tell that story in a much more powerful way. Given your time in Benin, your commitment to the ideals that Peace Corps hopes to help ignite in people, and your future with the U.S. Foreign Service: What does the Peace Corps mean to you?
Marieme Foote: Peace Corps, at its heart — as Bill Josephson said — is about wanting to serve and be with people. The people-to-people connection is the best part of Peace Corps. I still talk to my host family; I hope they’ll be my family forever. It has built some beautiful relationships in my life. Finding new ways to make this experience something all Americans can do, that everyone around the world can partake in and celebrate, is important in bridging connections. How we can make this experience accessible to this new generation — that’s my question going forward.
For All They’ve Done: Recognition and Thanks to Bill Josephson and Bill Moyers
As part of the Mark the Moment celebration, National Peace Corps Association presented Bill Josephson and Bill Moyers with special recognition for their work. In presenting the tokens of recognition, NPCA Board Chair Maricarmen Smith-Martinez noted, “Peace Corps wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for your efforts and the collaboration of others 60 years ago. And the greatest tribute, no doubt, is the impact of the 240,000 Volunteers who have served in every part of the world, an impact that is both immeasurable and unforgettable.”
The Peace Corps Act: first page and last, with JFK’s signature. Document courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
NOW LISTEN to this conversation on Spotify.
Story updated December 22, 2021 at 3 PM.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleA momentous anniversary. And we are coming together to commemorate, celebrate, and act! see more
This year we mark 60 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the legislation creating the Peace Corps. Celebrate the moment in the morning. Take part in special advocacy programs throughout the day. And stay tuned for special news and commemorations from Capitol Hill.
By Jonathan Pearson
PHOTO: President John F. Kennedy signs the Peace Corps Act on September 22, 1961. Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum
LISTEN on Spotify to the converation with Bill Josephson, Bill Moyers, Joe Kennedy III, and Marieme Foote from September 22, 2021.
As you prepare to join National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) for the 60th anniversary Peace Corps Connect conference September 23–25, we also invite you to take part in a special commemoration on September 22 — the anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act.
While plans are being finalized, here is the programming you can expect, with individual links to register for each event throughout the day.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2021 | SCHEDULE
Events and timing subject to change.
Mark the Moment
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM (Eastern)
September 22, 1961 at 9:45 AM. That was the moment when President John F. Kennedy signed congressional legislation that formally established the Peace Corps. Join NPCA to celebrate this moment. Former Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, and Peace Corps pioneers Bill Josephson and Bill Moyers are scheduled to join us. Register here.
UPDATE: LISTEN on Spotify to the converation from September 22, 2021.
Social Media Mobilization
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM (Eastern)
Have a Twitter account? Are you a regular on Facebook or Instagram? Got connections that run far and wide on LinkedIn? Make plans to be part of a nationwide social media mobilization to amplify the importance of the Peace Corps at this historic 60th anniversary moment. While activity is likely and encouraged throughout the day, you can also plan to stop by anytime during an hour-long zoom gathering to say hello to others, hear the latest from NPCA leaders and citizen advocates, and celebrate 60 years of the Peace Corps! Whether you stop by the virtual gathering or not, help amplify Peace Corps through social media: Register here and we’ll keep you in the loop.
Honor Those Who Have Served | In-Person Wreath Laying at John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM (Eastern)
Northern Virginia Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NOVARPCV) host a wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Speakers include Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn; former Congressman and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Sam Farr; returned Volunteer Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); and NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst, who will speak on the legacy of the Peace Corps to honor President John F. Kennedy. Following speeches, attendees will walk together to the grave site of President John F. Kennedy, where a wreath and flowers will be placed. This is an in-person event. Learn more and register here.
Learn the Ropes: How to Become a Citizen Advocate
8:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Eastern)
If you’re interested in becoming a citizen advocate but aren’t sure how — or if you’re just wading in — this is the most important hour of the day. We need to substantially build our ranks to score significant victories in Congress in this key moment in Peace Corps’ history. Don't think you alone will make a difference? In this program, you’ll hear from NPCA advocates who absolutely have — bringing on board legislators who have never supported Peace Corps in the past. Don't think lawmakers listen to what you say? We will hear from RPCV Capitol Hill staff on that topic. Not sure if you can make a difference? Hear some success stories from RPCV advocates. Interested in other issues? Meet members of RPCV special interest affiliate groups on how they bring their Peace Corps voice to the conversation.
(UPDATE) We are happy to announce this program will begin with remarks from RPCV Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA), with an appeal to our community to help pass his Peace Corps Reauthorization Act legislation! Register here.
60th Anniversary Live ... from Capitol Hill?
We will be monitoring Capitol Hill for possible Peace Corps-related actions and news on or about September 22 — related to advancing the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, support for Peace Corps funding, or commemorating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act. Register here to be notified about any key Peace Corps developments that will be broadcast live from Capitol Hill.
LISTEN on Spotify to the converation from September 22, 2021.
Story updated December 22, 2021 at 1:30 PM.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association.
Sixty Years of Peace Corps see more
Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other missives: Readers respond to the stories in words and images in the Spring 2021 edition of WorldView. We’re happy to continue the conversation here and on all those nifty social media platforms. One way to write us: email@example.com
Sixty Years of Peace Corps
Thanks for another great issue! Glad you included “If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…,” which we heard in March, and then lots of other good stories such as “Once More, with Feeling” in Moldova and “Triage, Respite, and Isolation” at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Glad, too, to be able to read on paper! Hoping for some in-person meetings in D.C. in September.
While we’re not able to gather for Peace Corps Connect in person in September, some affiliate groups representing individual countries of service are holding their own reunions. And a wreath-laying ceremony will take place in person at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. More info, including a schedule for the conference and registration: bit.ly/peace-corps-connect-2021 —Ed.
Much thanks to NPCA for drawing our attention to the current effort to reauthorize the Peace Corps Act (H.R. 1456). This important legislation has been introduced by John Garamendi (D-CA; Ethiopia 1966–68) and co-sponsored by Garret Graves (R-LA). It has been decades since the Peace Corps’ organic legislation was last comprehensively reviewed and updated in 1999. The world has changed a lot since then, and the Peace Corps Act needs to be updated to keep up with those changes.
Between the two of us (father and daughter) we have extensive Peace Corps experience, including two tours as Volunteers, five years of work in Peace Corps Recruitment, Peace Corps Employee Union work, and currently one of us is a Peace Corps Response candidate. Our work with the Peace Corps has given us insight into the deficiencies of the current law governing the Peace Corps. We desperately need an airing of any systemic problems so that reasonable solutions can be implemented. This effort will make the program more efficient and effective in the 21st century.
So … consider the baton passed! NPCA has alerted the Peace Corps community to the reauthorization effort. It is now incumbent upon us to contact our congressional representatives and encourage its passage. If you are reading this letter, stop now and go do it! What are you waiting for?
I served in Ghana in the mid-’70s and have followed President Biden in his COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. He was asked if he would consider sending the vaccine overseas once we got the virus under control and we accumulated a surplus. The president’s response was quick in the affirmative, since we are aware that it is a global pandemic. I would like to suggest that the priority list for countries receiving our surplus should be countries that currently host Peace Corps Volunteers. It would be beneficial to both the host countries and the Volunteers.
As a side note, my daughter was also a Volunteer. She served in Botswana 2008–10.
I’d say: 1) We know you support Peace Corps; thank you. 2) Please double the budget. 3) Lead retooling, re-entry, and re-engagement into host nations with public health efforts at the forefront.
What is the cost of public benefit/value and global net welfare gain via supranational peace in the long run? That’s just one reason I’m proud not only to have served in the Peace Corps, but to be an American. Many nations make allies to go to war. The U.S. decidedly makes allies to not go to war, while also promoting friendship across borders.
If I had three minutes I would tell the president to definitely not expand the Peace Corps. Typical of government and organizations: If it’s working, let’s just expand it until it’s dysfunctional. Rather, put more young and old people to work in this country and keep the international portion selective and efficient.
Peace Corps Connect to the Future
I read through your whole Winter 2021 publication and do want to tell you how much I appreciated it. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with all of your proposals for the future of Peace Corps; there is definitely a generation gap.
I am now 95 years old (and was obviously an “older” Volunteer), yet I still feel very much in tune with the concept and the actual organization. I served in the Dominican Republic 1987–89 in rural development, and before the electronic age. Yet, as I read the stories of the various recent Volunteers, their experiences don’t seem so different from mine.
Thank you for keeping us returned Volunteers informed.
Dominican Republic 1987–89
Thank you for amplifying the discussion of diversity in the Peace Corps community. That spurred our minimally-diverse TCP Global team to look beyond the ranks of RPCVs. Not too surprising, adding two Kenyan Americans and one representative each from Uganda, Nigeria, Niger, and Nepal helps all of us to better address the different challenges and opportunities in different regions. Their presence on the team serves as a welcome sign for site administrators to offer their own suggestions for improving service, much as Colombia Project administrators helped to perfect our model over the first seven years in Colombia. We are still a work in progress and are fortunate to have natives of five countries we serve helping us chart the course ahead.
Co-Executive Director, TCP Global
Colombia 1968–70, Slovak Republic 1997–99
Corrections: Politics, and that would be March 2021
Our Spring 2021 roundup of returned Volunteers serving in state government (page 47 in print) should have included one who recently made the move from the hospital to the capitol in Wisconsin: Sara Rodriguez was elected to the state legislature in 2020. She served with the Peace Corps in Samoa 1997–99, as a health education Volunteer focused on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. She has worked as a nurse, in epidemiology with the CDC, and as a healthcare executive.
In print, “What Lies Ahead for the Peace Corps” (page 15) contained a slip of the year in the intro: Carol Spahn’s remarks were given at the Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2021, not 2020.
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Volunteers Serving in Times of Need see more
In 2021 Peace Corps Response marks a quarter century since its founding. Some moments that have defined it.
Photo: Community members in a village near Zomba, Malawi, learn to sew reusable sanitary pads for girls. Sheila Matsuda captured the moment as a Response Volunteer in Malawi 2018–19.
Crisis Corps was launched in 1996. At the outset, Volunteers were deployed to respond to natural disasters and assist with relief in the aftermath of violence. Over the years, the program expanded in scope, and Volunteers are now sent to meet a variety of targeted needs in communities around the world. In 2007, the name of the program changed to Peace Corps Response to reflect this shift.
Here’s a little history — including the program’s origins.
1992 | Beginnings
NAMIBIA: Peace Corps approves first short-term assignments. Ten Volunteers already serving elsewhere transfer to Namibia, responding to a prolonged, devastating drought.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
1994 | April
RWANDA: The president is assassinated, and a campaign of genocide unfolds. Returned Volunteers work with National Peace Corps Association to activate the NPCA Emergency Response Network and deploy RPCVs to support work with refugees. Peace Corps, in conjunction with the International Rescue Committee, also transfers five Volunteers to the Burigi refugee camp, where they serve for five months.
1995 | September
LESSER ANTILLES bears the brunt of Hurricane Luis. More than 3,000 people are left homeless. Eight RPCVS re-enroll with the Peace Corps, travel to Antigua, and help rebuild homes and provide training on hurricane-resistant construction.
1996 | June 19
CRISIS CORPS is officially launched at a Rose Garden ceremony with President Bill Clinton and Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan. The Peace Corps is “based on a simple yet powerful idea: That none of us alone will ever be as strong as we can all be if we’ll all work together,” Clinton says.
Photo: Peace Corps
1996 | December
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB: Peace Corps Director Gearan announces plans for a “reserve” of up to 100 Crisis Corps Volunteers; some to travel to Guinea and Ivory Coast to work with Liberian refugees.
1997 | July
CENTRAL EUROPE hit by devastating floods. RPCVs who served in the Czech Republic return with Crisis Corps to assist relief efforts.
Photo: Bohumil Blahuš
1998 | September
CARIBBEAN countries blasted by Hurricane Georges; more than 300 killed. Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers in Dominican Republic help with home reconstruction and emergency water and sanitation projects.
Photo: Debbie Larson / National Weather Service
1998 | October
CENTRAL AMERICA slammed by Hurricane Mitch. Hundreds of RPCVs who served in the region contact the agency to serve; Volunteers already in the region assist, too. Relief efforts in Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Crisis Corps Volunteers have also served in Chile, following an earthquake, and in Paraguay in the wake of flooding.
2000 | June
HIV/AIDS CRISIS: Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider calls on RPCVs to consider devoting their time, skills, and experience to serve in Crisis Corps as part of a new HIV/AIDS initiative. Five African countries have requested Volunteers in this capacity.
Photo Credit: Peace Corps
2001 | April
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: Crisis Corps Volunteers begin assignments in first country where Peace Corps had no prior presence. They assist local municipalities and NGOs, plus international aid organizations.
2002 | January
MAURITANIA hit by torrential rains, causing severe flooding. Red Crescent of Mauritania requests Crisis Corps assistance to help homeless families.
Image: Jon Harald Søby
2002 | February
AFGHANISTAN: After the swearing-in of new Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez, President George W. Bush announces that a Peace Corps team will travel to Afghanistan to assess how the program could help with reconstruction. It is possible a Crisis Corps team could follow. But Volunteers do not return to Afghanistan.
Photo: Alejandro Chicheri / World Food Programme
2002 | July
MICRONESIA struck by Typhoon Chataan, most devastating natural disaster in the country’s history. On the island of Chuuk, Crisis Corps Volunteers assist with reforestation and soil stabilization, and begin work with communities on water sanitation facilities.
Photo: Federated States of Micronesia Department of Foreign Affairs
2002 | November
MALAWI hosts its first Crisis Corps Volunteers, requested by the government and UNICEF to address cholera outbreaks and assist with prevention.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
2004 | March
GHANA: Crisis Corps Volunteers help launch HIV/AIDS education initiative.
2004 | November
ZAMBIA: Volunteers funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) work with neighborhood health committees and ministry of health.
2004 | December
INDIAN OCEAN: A 9.1 magnitude earthquake generates a tsunami, devastating communities in a number of nations. Scores of RPCVs serve with Crisis Corps in Thailand and Sri Lanka to assist with relief measures.
Map: Wikimedia Commons
2005 | August
U.S. GULF COAST, particularly the New Orleans area, bears the brunt of Hurricane Katrina. For the first time, Crisis Corps Volunteers are asked to serve domestically; they partner with FEMA on relief work in hurricane-ravaged areas. While Peace Corps is an international organization, Director Gaddi Vasquez notes, “Today, as many of our fellow Americans are suffering tremendous hardship right here at home, we believe it is imperative to respond.” Volunteers take on 30-day assignments. Projects range from opening a disaster recovery center in the Lower 9th Ward to distributing food and water to displaced families. In total, 272 Volunteers serve 9,323 days and contribute 74,584 hours of service.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
2005 | October
CENTRAL AMERICA hit by Hurricane Stan. In Guatemala, Crisis Corps Volunteers assist with reconstruction.
2007 | October
TULANE UNIVERSITY: Crisis Corps International Scholars Program launched; it pairs work on a master’s degree with a Crisis Corps assignment.
2007 | November
PEACE CORPS RESPONSE is the new name for Crisis Corps. Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter says the new name better captures what Volunteers do, addressing critical needs in health, education, and technology — along with serving in disaster situations.
Photo: Peace Corps
2008 | October
LIBERIA: Response Volunteers lead the return of the Peace Corps, after an absence of nearly two decades. They work in education to revitalize training, schools, libraries, and more; and in health training. Their swearing-in ceremony is attended by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter, and U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Photo: Peace Corps
2010 | January
HAITI struck by 7.0 magnitude earthquake and scores of aftershocks. Some 250,000 people die;
1.5 million are left homeless, without access to clean water or food. Many hospitals are destroyed. Response Volunteers serve as part of global relief efforts.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
2012 | January
JAMAICA: Dorothy Burrill, 73, is first Response Volunteer who hasn’t already served in the Peace Corps. Eligibility now open to those with 10 years’ work experience and language skills.
2012 | March
GLOBAL HEALTH SERVICE PARTNERSHIP launched in collaboration with PEPFAR and Global Health Service Corps. The goal: address shortages of health professionals by investing in capacity building and support for existing medical and nursing education programs in African nations of Tanzania, Malawi, and Uganda.
2012 | October
SOUTH AFRICA: Response Volunteer Meisha Robinson and 12 Peace Corps South Africa Volunteers collaborate with Special Olympics staff and community members to organize the inaugural Special Olympics Africa Unity Cup. Fifteen nations’ soccer teams compete.
Photo: Special Olympics
2013 | November
THE PHILIPPINES pummeled by Super Typhoon Yolanda, killing thousands. Response Volunteers assist in affected areas.
2014 | September
COMOROS: Peace Corps announces it is returning, after a decade’s absence, with 10 Response Volunteers leading the way — to teach English and support environmental protection.
Photo: Peace Corps
2015 | March to April
MICRONESIA hammered by Typhoon Maysak. Response Volunteers assist with reconstruction.
2015 | December
PARTNERSHIPS: Peace Corps Response and IBM Corporate Service team up to engage highly skilled professionals to work collaboratively. Response also leverages partnerships with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Rotary International.
ADVANCING HEALTH PROFESSIONALS program launched in five countries: Eswatini, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda. The program succeeds the Global Health Service Partnership and assigns Volunteers to nonclinical, specialized assignments that enhance the quality of healthcare in resource-limited areas, improving healthcare education and strengthening health systems at a societal level.
Photo: Peace Corps
2020 | March
GLOBAL: COVID-19 leads Peace Corps to evacuate all Volunteers and Response Volunteers from around the world.
2021 | May
UNITED STATES: Response Volunteers begin serving with FEMA community vaccination centers to battle the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Photo: Peace Corps
8/28/61 Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver leads 80 Ghana and Tanganyika Peace Corps Volunteers see more
The legislation that permanently created the Peace Corps had yet to pass the Senate. But the Peace Corps had been launched by an executive order issued in March. And the first Volunteers were about to embark on service in Ghana and Tanganyika.
A moment in time: August 28, 1961. Founding Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver leads 80 Volunteers who are headed for Ghana and Tanganyika, now Tanzania, to the White House, where President John F. Kennedy will give them a personal send-off.
JFK thanks them for embarking on their service, “on behalf of our country and, in the larger sense, as the name suggests, for the cause of peace and understanding.”
Two days later, on August 30, after a 23-hour flight from Washington, 51 Volunteers will land in Accra, Ghana, to begin their service as teachers. We’re grateful to them and the communities that have worked together with Volunteers over the past six decades. The mission of the Peace Corps, then as now, is to build peace and friendship. As if we needed reminding, that’s work far from finished.
Photograph by Rowland Scherman, Peace Corps. Courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
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.
Molly O'Brien posted an articleWe remember those within our Peace Corps community who recently passed away. see more
As we mourn the loss of members of the Peace Corps community, we celebrate the lives they led with a commitment to service.
By Molly O’Brien & Caitlin Nemeth
Our tributes include former U.S. Ambassador Larry L. Palmer, left, and an award-winning musician. A decorated State Department diplomat and a public health official specializing in infectious diseases. Educators with a lifelong commitment to their students. A dedicated physical therapist and a doctor who served as an instrumental member of the NPCA Board of Directors.
We honor the wide range of contributions made by members of the Peace Corps community who recently passed away.
Ambassador Larry L. Palmer, Ph.D. (1949 – 2021) was a dedicated civil servant and diplomat. He earned a bachelor’s in history from Emory University, a master’s of education from Texas Southern University, and a doctorate in higher education and African Studies from Indiana University, Bloomington. Palmer served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia from 1970 to 1972, which inspired him to join the Foreign Service. That led to postings in multiple U.S. Embassies around the world as part of the Senior Foreign Service. He served in the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Ecuador before being appointed U.S. Ambassador to Honduras (2002–05) by President Bush. During his tenure in Honduras, he oversaw more than $250 million in development programming from USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Upon completing his term as ambassador, he became the president and CEO of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) from 2005–10. He was energetic and focused on generating economic impact during his time at IAF. He helped IAF expand their approach to funding and supporting underserved groups, including African descendants. After his time with IAF, Ambassador Palmer served as the U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean under President Obama (2012–16), where he concurrently served as the ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Ambassador Palmer was a wonderful connector and diplomat, working tirelessly in many roles to forge prosperous relationships between the U.S. and many parts of the world.
Mary L. Walker (1926 – 2021) was a musician, but her professional career began as a research assistant with the Wright Patterson Aeromedical Laboratories. This preliminary research was a precursor to the U.S. space program; Walker participated in trials to determine the effect of decreased oxygen levels on humans at high altitudes. Her career took a creative turn when, at 48, Walker taught herself how to play guitar; she would go on to complete eight albums. Her music can be described as entertaining and informational, and her inspiring impact was felt by the Catholic church and her local community, with songs such as “Advent Song” and “Everybody Has a Song.” Mary was awarded the Popular Award every year from 1984 to 1994 by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. From 1990 to 1992, Walker served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji, where she presented a weekly children’s radio program called “Shared The Sunlight.” Over the years, she went on to receive the Arts Partnership Award from the Chemung Valley Arts Council and was recognized as a Woman of Excellence Today by Girl Scouts of the USA. In addition to “Shared The Sunlight,” other shows Walker hosted and performed on include PBS programs “Weekend Radio” and “Woody’s Children,” ITV’s “Saints Alive,” and the musical “Children of the Earth,” a production by Mary and Serge Banyevitch. Her extensive work over the years as a creative performer cemented Walker’s dedication to promoting fairness, love, and inclusion for the community's future — children.
David C. McGaffey, Ph.D. (1941 – 2021) was an incredibly smart and talented man with many interests. At the age of 15, he enrolled at the University of Detroit and completed his education with majors in theater, folklore, psychology, and math. During his time at U of D, he met his future wife, Elizabeth. Together, they joined Peace Corps after their wedding, serving in Afghanistan 1964–66. Upon their return, McGaffey joined the State Department, traveling the world and representing the United States in various capacities. His storied career involved managing the safe evacuation of 2,500 Americans from Iran during the 1979 revolution, serving as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Guyana, and holding a position as the U.S. representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. He managed to find time to publish four non-fiction books about diplomacy and write a children’s book. While working for the State Department, McGaffey received his master’s in systems analysis at Harvard University, then furthered his education in retirement, completing a Ph.D. in international relations at Johns Hopkins University. He did not slow down, returning to teaching at several universities abroad in the U.S. He was passionate about teaching and assisted in the development of many programs at various international universities. David was an incredible civil servant and made a positive impact upon everyone he met.
David B. Wolf, Ph.D. (1942 – 2021) was a leader in higher education in California. Wolf attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he also earned his master’s in economics. After marrying in 1965, David and Ruth Wolf served in the Peace Corps in Malaysia 1966–68. Upon their return, David pursued his doctorate in organization and education at Stanford University. He began his career in education in earnest; he was hired as the dean of Los Angeles Mission College, then later took on administrative roles at other colleges. He taught for many years and was later promoted to accrediter for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Wolf was passionate about his students and wanted every student in California to receive access to higher education. His retirement from teaching did not last long before he went back to work. He co-founded the Campaign for College Opportunity advocacy group in 2002, which has since grown into one of the only statewide nonprofits to focus exclusively on public higher education. Due to his work in his organization, hundreds of thousands of students in California have been able to achieve access to higher education and brighter futures.
H. David Hibbard, M.D. (1937 – 2021) followed JFK’s call to service, joining the very first Peace Corps group in Nigeria, then later serving as a Peace Corps doctor in India 1967–69. An Oberlin College graduate, Hibbard continued his education at Case Western Reserve Medical School and the University of North Carolina, where he earned his public health degree. Remembered by patients as a kind and compassionate doctor, Hibbard contributed to the medical community in a variety of ways. He created the Advanced Medical Directive forms that are used nationwide, served on the Boulder Community Hospital Integrated task force, and co-founded the Malaria and Health Care Project with his wife, Chris, in Uganda. He remained active in the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, serving on the NPCA Board of Directors, making a lasting impact on NPCA’s advocacy efforts.
Michael J. Bangs, Ph.D. (1956 – 2021) was a dedicated public health agent to the communities he served, working across the globe in southeast Asia, Central America, and Africa. Inspired by his three years working on malaria prevention as a Peace Corps Volunteer in northern Borneo, Bangs obtained his master’s in medical entomology and infectious disease epidemiology. He spent 21 years as a U.S. Navy public health entomologist in the capacity of a preventive medicine officer in Indonesia, during which time he was sponsored as a Ph.D. candidate in medical entomology. Following his retirement from military service in 2006, he continued working overseas as director of vector-borne disease control programs for a private medical assistance company. Throughout his years as a public health worker, he authored over 250 articles that analyzed his research on vector-borne disease epidemiology. Bangs also consulted with major foundations on malaria prevention initiatives, and he taught as an adjunct professor and advisor to many students at world-renowned institutions such as the Universities of Oxford and Notre Dame.
Marian B. Rowe (1939 – 2021) was a three-time Peace Corps Volunteer. From a young age she was involved in the organization 4-H, owning a horse and sheep that participated in 4-H competitions. Rowe’s devotion to animals led her to obtain her bachelor’s in zoology from the University of California Davis, and later on to pursue her master’s in wildlife biology through the University of Idaho. Her other passions included travel and education, and in 1962 she was part of the first Peace Corps group to arrive in Venezuela, where she worked in community development. She would go on to serve twice more in Peace Corps, but during the intervening years, she dedicated herself to working as an educator, teaching Spanish to high schoolers in California schools and teaching ESL to immigrants in local communities. In 1992, she served in Peace Corps Morocco as a large animal husbandry expert. She served for a third time as an English educator in Paraguay from 2009 to 2011. Her love for traveling, education, and animals continued for the rest of her life, and she passed on a deep appreciation for these to her children and grandchildren.
Francisco A. Sisneros (1948 – 2021) was a respected education administrator, researcher, and author. He spent several years in his late teens and early 20s independently in Latin America, studying and working, and by 1971 served as a Volunteer in Honduras. Following his Peace Corps service, Sisneros worked at the Bilingual Institute and the University of New Mexico, and conducted bilingual materials research at the University of Arizona in Tucson until 1981. He then switched gears and spent 20 years as a school administrator within the Socorro, New Mexico school district. In his spare time, Sisneros enjoyed researching his Hispanic ancestors, tracing his family ties to the mid-1660s in New Mexico. He helped establish the Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico, and was a senior research associate at the center. He was also a well-known writer and researcher in the field of New Mexico Hispanic history.
Hugh T. Compton, Ph.D. (1944 – 2021) served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica, working as a teacher and job counselor. Upon his return from service in 1969, he earned his doctorate in literature from the University of South Carolina. Compton joined the university faculty, inspiring thousands of students over the course of three decades. He served in many leadership positions at the university and contributed to a wide range of topics such as 18th-century literature, censorship, theatre history, Southern literature, and African American theatre and literature. Hugh was also the recipient of many University honors and awards, including the University of South Carolina Educational Foundation Award for Faculty Service and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Distinguished Teaching, Research and Service in Furtherance of Social Justice.
Gwendolyn K. Forbes-Kirby (1953 – 2021) was a dedicated physical therapist for over 35 years. After she graduated from the University of California, Davis, she joined the Peace Corps in 1976 and served in South Korea, where she met her future husband. After marriage, they traveled together and spent time in Switzerland, Japan, Hawai'i, and the state of Georgia. During her time in Atlanta, she used her extensive experience working as a certified lymphedema therapist to join the Board of Directors for the Lighthouse Lymphedema Network.
PEACE CORPS STAFF
Mercer Gilmore (US Staff), 4/5/21
Paul L. Guise, M.D. (West Africa 1961–64), 5/5/21
John L. Kuehn, M.D. (US Staff 1966), 4/25/21
Tobe Johnson, Ph.D. (US Staff), 5/7/21
Walter O. VomLehn, M.D. (Dominican Republic), 3/8/21
Kathryn I. Chase (Hungary 1995–97, Eastern Caribbean 1998), 4/6/21
Marian B. Rowe (Venezuela 1962–64, Morocco 1992–94, Paraguay 2009–11), 5/8/21
John M. Flynn (1965–67), 5/18/21
David C. McGaffey (1964–66), 4/14/21
Sandra J. McNeilly (1971–73), 4/12/21
Michael B. Backus (2003–04), 5/12/21
Monica M. Justice (1989–91), 1/15/21
Gary M. Bean (1968–69), 5/18/21
Michael B. Fero (1965–67), 10/28/20
Rodolfo Ramirez (1966–69), 5/1/21
Peter Brostrom (1985–86), 3/30/21
M. Dickey Drysdale (1966), 5/9/21
Michael S. Owen (1966–68), 4/13/21
Donald R. Torrence (1962–64), 4/25/21
Jake M. Beddoe (2018–19), 5/27/20
Robert Donner (1966–68), 4/27/21
Charles L. Clark (1963–65), 4/27/21
Elizabeth J. Hamm (1964–65), 4/11/21
Lois S. Mirkin (1962–64), 12/22/20
Gwendolyn S. Smith (1973–74), 5/4/21
FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA
Esther M. Gray (1987–89), 4/28/21
Sharon N. Ruzumna (1967–69), 4/24/21
Mary L. Walker (1990–92), 4/29/21
Frank X. McGough (1966–68), 4/24/21
Francisco A. Sisneros (1971–73), 5/1/21
Jackson E. Tegarden (1977), 5/14/21
Grant B. Anderson (1963), 5/18/21
Ruth Benziger Cahill (1968–70), 4/17/20
Conrad F. Fingerson (1963–65), 4/30/21
Bill A. Hetzner (1965–67), 4/15/21
James “Jamie” Oates (1968–71), 4/14/21
Roland M. Poirier (1968–69), 3/9/21
Jeffrey D. Shorn (1966–68), 4/20/21
Marvin A. Cochran (1965–67), 4/27/21
Hugh T. Compton, Ph.D. (1967–69), 4/28/21
James R. Linville (1970–73), 4/19/21
Amb. Larry L. Palmer, Ph.D. (1970–72), 4/22/21
Frank A. Peterson, Jr. (1963–65), 4/10/21
Marie L. Woodward (1977–80), 4/7/21
John A. Turnbull (1963–65), 4/13/21
Michael J. Bangs, Ph.D. (1979–82), 3/9/21
David B. Wolf (1966–68), 4/9/21
Kent M. Helmer (1979–81), 4/21/21
Eric E. Goodale (1964–67), 4/25/21
H. David Hibbard, M.D. (1961–63), 4/7/21
Gwendolyn E. Skeoch (1965–67), 5/2/21
Carl White (1964–66), 5/8/21
William A. LeMaire (1967–69), 3/29/21
Richard Headen Inman, Sr. (1968–70), 3/13/21
Carl S. Ebert (1966–68), 4/21/21
Frederick P. Romero (1964–66), 3/26/21
Bruce C. Campbell (1961–63), 5/10/21
Veronica D. Casale (1966–68), 1/6/21
Ernest N. Way (1965–67), 5/21/21
Jane O. Mohney (1982–83), 5/7/21
Jeffrey N. Phillips (1973–75), 4/14/21
Diane Williams (1987–90), 4/5/21
Brenda Wilson (1973–76), 4/15/21
Peter Bartholomew (1967–71), 5/11/12
Gwendolyn K. Forbes-Kirby (1976–78), 4/9/21
Noel C. Hankamer (1965–68), 4/6/21
COUNTRY OF SERVICE NOT SPECIFIED
Jerry D. Nash, 4/12/21
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