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Sargent Shriver

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Our commitment to empathy and justice — around the world, and here at home see more

    Our commitment to empathy and justice — around the world, and here at home

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

    Our nation is reeling. How could it not be? More than 100,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. More than 40 million have filed for unemployment since mid-March. And last week we witnessed the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a white police officer. 

    These are not unrelated tragedies. And George Floyd’s death is only the latest in a terrible litany of unarmed Black men and women who have been killed. We condemn the actions that led to his death, just as we condemn discrimination and violence against all Black people — including members of the Peace Corps community.

    The toll of coronavirus has hit black and brown communities particularly hard. So have job losses. And in a time of global pandemic, we’re faced once more with a brutal truth articulated years ago by Sargent Shriver, who founded the Peace Corps: “We must also treat the disease of racism itself.” 

    How do we do that? Fundamentally, those of us in the Peace Corps community embark on service as Volunteers to promote world peace and understanding. This is our world, right here. One where empathy and justice must guide us — as we head out into the world, as we bring it back home. Our commitment to that doesn’t stop at the border. As National Peace Corps Association Board Director Corey Griffin has often put it, “By living out Peace Corps values here at home, we’ll have a better society, one that honors and celebrates our differences.”

     

    A moral issue

    Friday marked the birth of John F. Kennedy, who famously offered the challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” A crucial time to ask that question again.

    And it happens that on May 30, 1964, Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, spoke of the challenge he saw facing America then: “Although poverty and injustice remain, we have today, for the first time, the legal and material resources to end them.”

    So have we? No. But those words ring true in another respect. Put together Kennedy’s challenge and Shriver’s assessment all those decades ago. One thing we can do for our country now is seek — once and for all — to end racism. We need concerted and peaceful action. And, make no mistake, we need courage and hope in these dark times. 

    Shriver understood the challenge and the stakes. “Today’s central issue is a moral issue: the issue of commitment,” he said. “If we fail, it will be a failure of commitment.” We can eliminate unemployment and poverty, he said, and we can ensure security against the ravages of disease and old age, use science to benefit all people, and ensure that Black Americans can be “fully American.” 

    His words merit quoting at length:

    These are not easy problems. I have seen the face of poverty and idleness in the mines of West Virginia. I have come face to face with racial hatred on the South Side of Chicago: Catholics stoning fellow Catholics on the steps of a church because they were Black. In the last few years, I have traveled five hundred thousand miles around the world seeing at first hand the deep barriers of culture, belief, prejudice, and superstition which divide us from our fellow man.

    But I have also seen the power of commitment, the individual commitment of thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers doing more than any of us can realize to refashion our relationships to the rest of the world. The Peace Corps is proof that deeply committed individuals can have a profound impact on the most difficult and intransigent of problems. Fuller proof is found in the civil rights movement. 

    Shriver also understood the feeling of powerlessness when faced with enormous challenges.

    What can we do about it? you ask. There is much you can do. For the need is not merely for laws or Presidential action, but for the self-organization of society on a large scale to solve the problems … Our books are full of good laws and regulations, but … hypocrisy and racial hatred and the apathy of decent citizens have made a mockery of American justice and equal opportunity.

    We must now show that we have the personal commitment to use our wealth and strength in the construction of a good society at home and throughout the world.

    As our friends at the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute note: When Shriver spoke of the idea of “self-organization,” he was calling for a community to organize and lead from within — and recognizing that big problems could be solved by strengthening understanding and collaboration on a large scale.

    Returned Peace Corps Volunteers across the country are convening virtually to ask how we can act together to address racial injustice. I encourage you to join the conversation. To listen, and learn more about organizations you can work with for social justice. To raise your voice. And to help others do so. 

    You can help ensure underrepresented members of our communities have a vote. Here is a list of resources for those who want to help with voter registration — from HipHop Caucus to Rock the Vote. And contact your elected representatives; let them know this matters to you. 

    We should also take heed of these words by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 


    Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala (1988-1991). You can read Sargent Shriver’s speech in full here.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    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 article
    A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded — and the world into which it emerged see more

    A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged.

     

    Research and editing by Jake Arce, Orrin Luc, and Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Map images throughout from 1966 map of Peace Corps in the World. Courtesy Library of Congress.

     

    For the Peace Corps community, 1961 is a year that holds singular significance. It is the year in which the agency was created by executive order; legislation was signed creating congressional authorization and funding for the Peace Corps; and, most important, that the first Volunteers trained and began to serve in communities around the world.

    But the Peace Corps did not emerge in a vacuum. The year before, 1960, became known as the Year of Africa — with 17 nations on that continent alone achieving independence. Winds of change and freedom were blowing.

    So were ominous gales of the Cold War — roaring loud with nuclear tests performed by the United States and Soviet Union. Or howling through a divided Europe, when in the middle of one August night East German soldiers began to deploy concrete barriers and miles of razor wire to make the Berlin Wall.

    In May 1961, as the first Peace Corps Volunteers were preparing to begin training, across the southern United States the Freedom Riders embarked on a series of courageous efforts to end segregation on interstate transport. This effort in the epic struggle for a more just and equitable society was often met with cruelty and violence. 

    —SBS

     


     

    January 3

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

     


     

    January 8

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

     

     

     


     

    Charlayne Hunter

    January 9

    Charlayne Hunter, left, and Hamilton Holmes become the first Black students to enroll at University of Georgia. Hunter aspires to be a journalist, Holmes a doctor. White students riot, trying to drive out Hunter and Holmes. A decade before, Horace Ward, who is also Black, unsuccessfully sought admission to the law school.

    Charlayne Hunter-Gault indeed goes on to become a journalist and foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, CNN, and the Public Broadcasting Service. 

    Hamilton Holmes goes on to become the first African-American student to attend the Emory University School of Medicine, where he earns an M.D. in 1967, and later serves as a professor of orthopedics and associate dean.

     

     

     

     


     

    January 17

     

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

     


     

    January 17

    REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Patrice Lumumba, who had led his nationalist party to victory in 1960 and was assessed by the CIA to be “another Castro,” is assassinated — though this won’t be known for weeks.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    JFK speaking

    January 20

    JFK’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you ...”

    Read annotations on the address 60 years later in our winter 2021 edition.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

     

    January 21

    JFK asks Sargent Shriver to form a presidential task force “to report how the Peace Corps should be organized and then to organize it.” 

    Shriver taps Harris Wofford to coordinate plans.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    February

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

     


     

     

    February 5

    State Department colleagues Bill Josephson and Warren Wiggins deliver a paper to Shriver they call “The Towering Task.”

    It lays out ideas for establishing a Peace Corps on a big, bold scale. Within three weeks, Shriver lands a report on JFK’s desk, saying with go-ahead, “We can be in business Monday morning.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    The Beatles

     

    February 9

    Debut appearance by the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    February 12

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

     

     

     

      

     

     

     


     

     

     

    February 27

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    March 1

    Executive Order 10924: JFK establishes the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis. 

    He says, “It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    March 4

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    March 6

    Executive order 10925: creates President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Government contractors must “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” First use of phrase “affirmative action” in executive order.

     


     

     

     

    March 14

    Bill Moyers, a 26-year-old legislative assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, takes on responsibilities as special consultant to the Peace Corps. The project, Moyers believes, shows “America as a social enterprise ... of caring and cooperative people.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

     

    March 18

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


      

    March 29

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

     


     

    April 11

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

     


     

    April 12

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

     


     

    April 17

    CUBA: U.S.-backed invasion at Bay of Pigs attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro. Invading troops surrender in less than 24 hours after being pinned down and outnumbered.

     


     

     

     

    April 22

    Sargent Shriver embarks on a “Round the World” trip to pitch the Peace Corps to global leaders. With him: Harris Wofford, Franklin Williams, and Ed Bayley. 

    They visit Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

      

     

     

     

     

     


     

    April 27

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

     


      

    April 29

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

     


     

     

     

    May 4

    Freedom Riders: Civil rights activist James Farmer organizes series of protests against segregation policies on interstate transportation in southern U.S. Buses carrying the Freedom Riders are firebombed, riders attacked by KKK and police, and riders arrested.

    Four hundred federal marshals are then sent out to enforce desegregation.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

     

    May 5

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

     

     

     

     

     


      

    May 11

    VIETNAM: JFK approves orders to send 400 special forces and 100 other military advisers to train groups to fight Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam.

     

     

      

     

     

    May 15

    First Peace Corps placement test administered

     

     

     

     

      

     

    May 21

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

     

     

     

     

     

    May 22

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

     

     

     

    May 25

    Space race: Addressing joint session of Congress, JFK says: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

     

     

     

     

     


     

    May 25

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

     


     

     

    May 31

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

     

     

     


     

    June 4

    JFK meets Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over two days in Vienna. “Worst thing in my life,” JFK tells a New York Times reporter. “He savaged me.”

     


     

     

    June 6

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

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    June 22

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

     


     

    June 25

    Training begins for Peace Corps Volunteers for Tanganyika I and Colombia I at universities and private agencies in New Jersey, Texas, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.

     


     

     

    July

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

     


     

    August 3

    Arkansas Democrat Sen. William Fulbright, skeptical of Peace Corps’ effectiveness, is cited in The New York Times as calling for a budget one-fourth the amount requested.

     


     

     

    August 4

    Sargent Shriver testifies in the House of Representatives and faces hostile GOP questioning. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Fulbright-led Foreign Relations Committee votes 14–0 to authorize the Peace Corps with the full $40 million in funding requested.

     

     

     


     

     

    August 4

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

    August 6

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

     


     

    August 10

    JFK press conference: “We have an opportunity if the amount requested by the Peace Corps is approved by Congress, of having 2,700 Volunteers serving the cause of peace in fiscal year 1962.” By the end of 1962, there will be 2,940 Volunteers serving.

     


     

     

    August 13

    Berlin Wall: In the middle of the night, East German soldiers begin stringing up some 30 miles ofbarbed wire and start enforcing the separation between East and West Berlin.

      

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

    August 17

    Charter for the Alliance for Progress signed in Uruguay, to bolster U.S. ties with Latin America. JFK compares it to the Marshall Plan, but the funding is nowhere near that scale.

     


     

     

    August 21

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    August 25

    Senate passes the Peace Corps Act. 

     

     

    August 28

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

     

     

     

     

     


     

    August 30

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

     


     

    August 30

    In Atlanta, Georgia, nine Black children begin classes at four previously all-white high schools. The city’s public schools had been segregated for more than a century.

     


     

    September 1

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

     


     

    September 4

    Foreign Assistance Act enacted, reorganizing U.S. programs to create the new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which officially comes into being in November.

     


     

    September 6

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

     


     

    September 8

    First group of 62 Volunteers arrive in Bogotá, Colombia, aboard a chartered Avianca flight. They are referred to as “los hijos de Kennedy”—Kennedy’s children.

     

     

     

    September 14

    House passes the Peace Corps Act 288–97. 

     

     

    September 18

    United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in a plane crash en route to a peacekeeping mission in the Congo. He is posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

    September 22

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

      

     

     

     

    September 30

    First group of 44 Volunteers arrive in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. They include surveyors, geologists, and civil engineers to work with local technicians to build roads.

     


     

    October 14

    Postcard from Nigeria: Volunteer Margery Michelmore sends a postcard to her boyfriend describing her first impressions of the city of Ibadan, calling conditions “primitive.” The card doesn’t make it stateside. Nigerian students mimeograph and distribute it widely on campus; it is front-page news in Nigeria and beyond. Michelmore cables Shriver that it would be best if she were removed from Nigeria. She is.

     


     

     

    October 18

    Jets vs. Sharks: Premiere of film adaptation of musical “West Side Story.” A hit at the box office, it will win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

     

     


     

     

    October 30

    Doomsday Device: Soviet Union tests the Tsar Bomba, largest explosion ever created by humankind. Its destructive capabilities make it too catastrophic for wartime use. International condemnation ensues. U.S. has begun its own underground testing.

     

     

     


     

     

    November 9

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

     

     


     

     

     

    November 24

    World Food Programme is established as a temporary United Nations effort. The first major crisis it meets: Iran’s 1962 earthquake. In 2020 its work is recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize.

     

     

     

     

     


     

    November 28

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

     


     

    December 6

    Ernie Davis of Syracuse University becomes the first Black player to win college football’s Heisman Trophy. Leukemia will tragically cut his life short 18 months later.

     


     

     

    December 9

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

     

     


     

     

    December 14

    Executive Order 10980: JFK establishes Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, to examine discrimination against women and how to eliminate it. Issues addressed include equal pay, jury service, business ownership, and access to education.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

     

    December 31

    500+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika, and Pakistan. An additional 200+ Americans are in training in the United States.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    An impromptu speech at 2 a.m. on October 14, 1960 that started it all see more

    Well after midnight on October 14, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy arrived at the steps of the Michigan Union. Legend has it that he first proposed the idea of the Peace Corps here. The truth is a little more complex, but far more interesting.

    By James Tobin

     

    Senator John F. Kennedy’s motorcade rolled into Ann Arbor very early on the morning of Friday, October 14, 1960. The election was three and a half weeks away. The Democratic nominee for president and his staff had just flown into Willow Run Airport. A few hours earlier, in New York, Kennedy had fought Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, in the third of their four nationally televised debates. The race was extremely close, and Michigan was up for grabs. Kennedy’s schedule called for a few hours of sleep, then a one-day whistle-stop train tour across the state.

    The campaign got word that students had been waiting outside the Michigan Union, where Kennedy was to spend the night, for three hours. As the cars reached the corner of State and South University, Kennedy’s speechwriters, Theodore Sorensen and Richard Goodwin, looked out the window. Students, densely packed, were milling all over the steps and sidewalks and into the street. Some carried signs or wore Kennedy hats. There were signs for Nixon, too. Cries arose as the cars pulled up. 

    “He won’t just let them stand there,” Sorensen told Goodwin. “He’s going to speak. Maybe that’ll give us a chance to get something to eat.” 

     

    He might have given the students a quick greeting and a standard pitch for votes. No one knows why he chose, instead, to ask them a question that would launch the signature program of his administration and ignite the idealism of a generation.

     

    They hadn’t prepared a speech, but Kennedy was good at extemporizing in a pinch. He might have given the students a quick greeting and a standard pitch for votes. No one knows why he chose, instead, to ask them a question that would launch the signature program of his administration and ignite the idealism of a generation.

     

    JFK at the Union. Photo by David Giltrow, courtesy Bentley Library

     

    Since early in the campaign year, there had been scattered proposals for a volunteer corps of young Americans who would go abroad to help nations emerging from colonialism in Africa, Asia, and South America. Kennedy had asked for studies of the idea, including from Samuel Hayes, a U-M professor of economics and director of the Center for Research on Economic Development. In early October, his staff had floated the idea in a press release, but no sparks had been struck. And Kennedy, according to aides, had been leery of the idea, fearing the damage Nixon might cause, in the jittery atmosphere of the Cold War, by calling him naïve about foreign affairs.

    Possibly it was a remark of Nixon’s that drew Kennedy’s mind back to the idea. In the debate the night before, the vice president had reminded the national audience that three Democratic presidents — Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman — had taken the U.S. to war. Kennedy may have wanted to strike a note that would associate his campaign with peace.

    In any case, he did not actually propose a program. He issued a challenge. Speaking into a microphone at the center of the stone staircase, with aides and students around him, Kennedy began by expressing his “thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.” (A recording shows that this got a shout from the crowd.) The campaign, he said, was the most important since the Depression election of 1932, “because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s, which must be seized.” 

     

    The motorcade. Photo by David Giltrow, courtesy Bentley Library 

     

    Then he asked his question: 

    “How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers: how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can. And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we’ve ever made in the past. 

    “Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can’t possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.”

     

    ”I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we’ve ever made in the past.”

     

    He said he’d come to Ann Arbor merely “to go to bed” — drawing a ribald roar from the crowd — then: “This is the longest short speech I’ve ever made, and I’ll therefore finish it.” The state had not built the university “merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle,” he said. “There is certainly a greater purpose, and I’m sure you recognize it.” He was not merely asking for their votes, but for “your support for this country over the next decade.” 

    The students roared again. Then Kennedy went up to bed, telling an aide he appeared to have “hit a winning number.”

     

     JFK arrives. Photo by Frederick L. Shippey, courtesy Bentley Library

     

    There were 50 or 60 reporters with Kennedy, but few mentioned the senator’s remarks. Russell Baker of the New York Times reported that during JFK’s entire swing through Michigan, he said “nothing that was new” — which was true, if one counted the early-October press release. But in the aftermath of the speech, something new began. 

    The following Tuesday, October 18, Congressman Chester Bowles of Connecticut, a Kennedy supporter and advisor, spoke to students in the Union ballroom. He, too, proposed what the Michigan Daily called “a U.N. civil service, which would send doctors, agricultural experts and teachers to needy countries throughout the world.” 

    Among Bowles’ listeners were two married graduate students, Alan and Judy Guskin. From Bowles’ talk, they went to a diner where they  drafted a letter to the Daily on a napkin. The letter was published the following Friday. The Guskins noted that Kennedy and Bowles had “emphasized that disarmament and peace lie to a very great extent in our hands and requested our participation throughout the world as necessary for the realization of these goals.” The two then pledged to “devote a number of years to work in countries where our help is needed,” and they challenged other students to write similar pledges to Kennedy and Bowles. “With this request,” they wrote, “we express our faith that those of us who have been fortunate enough to receive an education will want to apply their knowledge through direct participation in the underdeveloped communities of the world.”

     

    JFK at the Union. Photo by Frederick Shippey, courtesy Bentley Library 

     

    Over the next two weeks, events moved fast. The Guskins were contacted by Samuel Hayes, the professor who had written the position paper on a youth corps for Kennedy. Together, they called a mass meeting. Some 250 students came out to sign a petition saying they would volunteer. Hundreds more signers followed within days.

     

    Some 250 students came out to sign a petition saying they would volunteer. Hundreds more signers followed within days.

     

    Then Mildred Jeffrey, a Democratic state committeewoman and UAW official whose daughter attended U-M, got word to Ted Sorensen about what Kennedy and Bowles had wrought in Ann Arbor. Sorensen told Kennedy. 

    On November 2, in a major address at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Kennedy formally proposed “a peace corps of talented young men and women, willing and able to serve their country ... for three years as an alternative or as a supplement to peacetime selective service.” (Nixon responded by calling the idea “a cult of escapism” and “a haven for draft dodgers.”) 

    On Sunday, November 6, two days before the election, Kennedy was expected at the Toledo airport. Three carloads of U-M students, including the Guskins, drove down to show him the petitions. “He took them in his hands and started looking through the names,” Judy Guskin recalled later. “He was very interested.” 

    Alan asked: “Are you really serious about the Peace Corps?” 

    “Until Tuesday we’ll worry about this nation,” Kennedy said. “After Tuesday, the world.” 

     

    Alan asked: “Are you really serious about the Peace Corps?” 

    “Until Tuesday we’ll worry about this nation,” Kennedy said. “After Tuesday, the world.” 

     

    Two days later, Kennedy defeated Nixon by some 120,000 votes, one of the slimmest margins in U.S. history. Some argue the Peace Corps proposal may have swayed enough votes to make the difference. 

    “It might still be just an idea but for the affirmative response of those Michigan students and faculty,” wrote Sargent Shriver, JFK’s brother-in-law and the Peace Corps’ first director, in his memoir. “Possibly Kennedy would have tried it once more on some other occasion, but without a strong popular response he would have concluded the idea was impractical or premature. That probably would have ended it then and there. Instead, it was almost a case of spontaneous combustion.”

    Alan and Judy Guskin were among the Peace Corps’ early volunteers. They served in Thailand.

     


     

    A Letter to the Michigan Daily, October 21, 1960

    To the Editor:

    Representative Chester Bowles and Senator Kennedy in their speeches to the students of the University of Michigan both emphasized that disarmament and peace lie to a very great extent in our hands and requested our participation throughout the world as necessary for the realization of these goals.

    In reply to this urgent request, we both hereby state that we would devote a number of years to work in countries where our help is needed, either through the United Nations or through the United States Foreign Service.

    WE ALSO WOULD like to request that all students who feel that they would like to help the cause of world peace by direct participation send a letter to this paper and/or our address. These letters will be forwarded to Kennedy and Bowles as an answer of the students of the University of Michigan to their plea for help. If it is at all possible, we would like students to start asking others in their classes, dorms,  sororities, fraternities, house, etc. to send letters expressing their desire to work toward these goals. We also request that those who have friends at other universities write to them asking them to start similar action on their campuses.

    With this request we express our faith that those of us who have been fortunate enough to receive an education will want to apply their knowledge through direct participation in the underdeveloped communities of the world.

    — Alan E. Guskin, Grad.

    — Judith T. Guskin, Grad.

     

     Story updated October 15, 2020


     

    COMING SOON: Video of Special 60th Anniversary Celebration of the Speech That Launched the Peace Corps

    On October 14, 2020, members of the Peace Corps community came together at 2 a.m. (yes, 2 a.m.!) to to mark this historic moment. We’ll upload video from the evening where you can hear an interview from October 2020 with Judy Guskin, who was there — and is one of two University of Michigan graduate students who helped propel the creation of the Peace Corps.

     

    LISTEN: John F. Kennedy's speech — and read more about it. 

    WATCH: An interview with Judith Guskin from October 2020 recounting the night Kennedy gave his speech and the first months that shaped the Peace Corps. She takes inspiration from what she sees with the new generation of Americans. And, she says, we have a responsibility to act.  

    READ MORE about how University of Michigan graduate students Al and Judy Guskin helped propel the creation of the Peace Corps

     


    James Tobin is an author and historian. He is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography for Ernie Pyle’s War. This article appeared originally in Michigan Today, the alumni publication of the University of Michigan, and previously appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of WorldView magazine .

    Sources include articles in The Michigan Daily and the Ann Arbor News and the following books: Robert G. Carey, The Peace Corps (Prager, 1970); Richard N. Goodwin, Remembering America (Little, Brown & Co., 1988); Gerard T. Rice, The Bold Experiment (Notre Dame, 1985); Karen Schwarz, What You Can Do For Your Country: An Oral History of the Peace Corps (Morrow, 1991); Sargent Shriver, Point of the Lance (Harper & Row, 1964); Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (Harper & Row, 1965); Harris Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings (FSG, 1980).

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    He shaped the beginnings of the Peace Corps — and so much more. see more

    He shaped the beginnings of the Peace Corps — and so much more.

    By William Josephson

     

    William F. (Bill) Haddad died on April 30. He was 91. He was the subject of long obituaries in both the Washington Post and New York Times. Bill was an extremely important early Peace Corps person. He created the inspector general position long before inspector generals became ubiquitous in every federal and many state agencies. Bill’s work gave birth to Charlie Peters and his unique Peace Corps evaluation office. Instead of “bean counters,” it employed journalists and lawyers to write down-to-earth evaluations of how well or badly the Peace Corps was doing in each country. 

    Bill’s energy and creativity were extraordinary, literally an idea or a proposed initiative a minute. Unlike many such personalities, Bill’s idea were never flaky, always worthy of consideration. Like many such personalities, Bill was a poor judge of which of his ideas were good and which of his ideas were not. But in his case, that did not matter. The number of ideas worthy of serious consideration far outweighed the number that did not. 

     

    Election night, 1960: William Haddad, right, with John F. Kennedy and family. Photo courtesy Lulie Haddad

     

    Bill served in the Merchant Marine during World War II and attended Columbia University. He joined the staff of Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver and helped secure his nomination for vice president in 1956. He was hired by the New York Post, and his reporting on corruption in the city’s housing program helped bring down power broker Robert Moses. He won the George Polk Award, one of journalism’s highest honors.

    In 1961 he took a leave of absence to help Sargent Shriver form the Peace Corps. For two years he served as associate director and as its first inspector general. He ran for Congress and lost. He was marketing director for iconic DeLorean Motor Co. but left when he learned of financial mismanagement.

     

     

    In the closing years of his career, he worked on efforts to lower costs for generic prescription drugs. A lifesaving drug cocktail for HIV/AIDS patients went from $15,000 a year to $350. That made the drugs more widely available in Africa, saving millions of lives.

     


    William Josephson was Founding Counsel for the U.S. Peace Corps, 1961–66.