webGuinée/Etat/Diplomatie/John H. Morrow/First American Ambassador to Guinea/Preparations for Departure
Diplomatie. Guinée — Etats-Unis d’Amérique
John H. Morrow
First American Ambassador to Guinea.
New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 1968. 291 p.
Preparations for Departure
From the moment that the announcement of my nomination appeared in the press until the hour when my family and I left New York aboard the ship United States on July 16, 1959, our lives were turned topsy-turvy. Telephone calls, telegrams, and letters began coming in from all over the United States wishing me well in my forthcoming appearance before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas. Some of the congratulatory letters came from points as distant as Japan, Korea, Mexico, Germany, and Africa; one of the first came from Governor Luther H. Hodges of North Carolina. Newspaper reporters from the local and state newspapers called for interviews, and radio and television stations wanted to arrange broadcasts, but I was unwilling to make any statements until my appointment had been confirmed by the United States Senate.
This decision was not pleasing to representatives of the news media, but my reluctance to be interviewed was understandable. The last two ambassadorial appointees to appear before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—Mrs. Clare Booth Luce and Mr. Ogden Reid—had been subjected to strenuous and extensive questioning, and some of the proceedings had even been televised. The appointees had not always been in the most comfortable of positions on the answering end of the questions put by the members of the Committee. I had had occasion to wonder why any citizen would subject himself to such a situation, particularly when he was being called upon to perform a duty for his country. In addition, there was much talk about the Senators’ discontent because some of the noncareer appointees lacked knowledge of the language and the historical, geographical, and political aspects of the country to which they were assigned. There was a general feeling that the next noncareer person to appear before this Committee—whoever he might bewould certainly be in for a hard time.
While I was trying to make out final examinations for my language classes and prepare the yearly report and budget for the following coming year, I was confronted with the task of answering the huge pile of congratulatory messages. There was also the question of the date of the hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. At one point it was scheduled for June 10, but was postponed because of other matters on the agenda. I did not appear before the Committee until June 16, but a whole lifetime seemed to have elapsed before that memorable day.
My unavailability to the press did not stem the flow of newspaper articles, and each mail brought clippings from papers in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Washington. Three articles struck me because of their very different approaches. The first appeared in the Durham Morning Herald (May 29, 1959) under the following heading: “Morrow Seen as Fulbright Challenge.”
The Washington correspondent of this newspaper, Walter Pincus, said among other things:
Fulbright has put the last two political ambassadorial appointees on the hot spot with the result that Clare Booth Luce later resigned after some awkward publicity, and Ogden Reid received committee approval only after a long and arduous day of close questioning.
Chairman Fulbright is known to have told the State Department there would be no more confirmation of purely political appointees. …
The Morrow nomination puts it squarely to Fulbright to follow through with this threat—but on a Negro appointee, with all the resultant political implications for the Democratic Party.
Pincus indicated that, in his opinion, I would receive Senate confirmation without difficulty; southern Senators, he assertted, did not plan any concerted opposition.
The second article, bearing the title “Morrow’s Qualifications for Guinea Post,” appeared the next day in an editorial in the same Durham newspaper. The editor wrote:
Dr. John H. Morrow of North Carolina College is well prepared to be Ambassador to Guinea, the post to which President Fisenhower appointed him Thursday.
For the past eight years he has carried on intensive research in the specialized field of French colonial administration. Guinea was a French colony from 1880 until it was granted independence last fall.
Dr. Morrow has carried on research abroad principally in Paris. He spent last summer there. Through the State Departinent and the American Embassy he was enabled to make contacts with officials in the colonial administrative offices and also with representatives and deputies from the African colonies. Thus he has been able to acquire both extensive theoretical knowledge and an intimate, practical, and working understanding of the French colonies and their people.
This intensive and extensive research has resulted in the completion of the manuscript of a book on French colonial administration. It gives every promise of becoming a significant contribution to a better understanding of the French colonies and their relationship to the mother country.
Dr. Morrow speaks French, the language of Guinea, fluently. In his teaching, he stresses the spoken language and insists that his students acquire facility in conversational French. His earlier interest, before becoming absorbed in his study of French colonialism, was French literature.
The appointment is a compliment not only to Dr. Morrow but also to North Carolina College. Those connected with the college and its friends must be gratified at this unusual recognition of the abilities and work of a member of the faculty.
The third article set forth a point of view that directly opposed the one expressed in the Durham Morning Herald editorial. The only similarity between it and the Herald article was that it too appeared on the editorial page. The editorial, bearing the title “Job for a Professional,” appeared in the June 2 edition of the Washington Post and read:
With no reflection upon Dr. Morrow, who is Chairman of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at North Carolina College, we wish that a professional diplomat had been nominated for this particular task.
In the first place, there is an element of condescension in the selection of a Negro as the Ambassador to the new African Negro Republic. It smacks of a segregated assignment system under which Negroes have traditionally been given such posts as the Ambassadorship to Liberia and occasionally to Haiti. At the present time there is only one American Negro career diplomat serving as a chief of mission. This is, of course, in no way the fault of Dr. Morrow. But until such time as qualified Negroes are assigned more generally as mission chiefs, the posting of one to a Negro country is likely to seem patronizing and invite resentment.
In the second place, and more serious, Guinea is a spot for an expert. Recent news stories, among them a report by this newspaper’s managing editor, Alfred Friendly, have related that the Communist bloc has made Guinea a focal point of its first major effort to penetrate Africa. To make Western help available in such a situation is a job of great delicacy requiring the utmost in skill and experience.
Perhaps Dr. Morrow can supply said skill, and everyone will wish him well. But there would be more ground for confidence if there were evidence that the administration regarded the Guinea assignment as a challenge to the best man available irrespective of race.
The words in the Washington Post kept running through my mind as I traveled by train from Durham to Washington on the evening of June 15 to reach the capital in time for the scheduled appearance before the Senate Committee on Forcign Relations at 10:30 the next morning. After a hurried breakfast I went to the Department of State to report to the Senate liaison officer who was to brief me on the Committee hearing. As I got out of the taxi at the diplomatic entrance, I noticed that it was 9:30. I also became aware that I was apprehensive for the first time since I had become involved in this affair. I suppose that the Washington Post editorial had not contributed to my composure.
At the Department of State I was introduced to two other appointees who were to appear before the Committee. After we had exchanged the usual greetings, the briefing officer outlined the order of the day. I was then taken aside and asked about what I would do if the question were raised about “second-class citizenship.” I replied that anybody who was fool enough to ask me such a question should be prepared for me to tell him where to go. I went on to say that if an A.B. and a Phi Beta Kappa key from Rutgers, an M.A. and Ph.D. with honors from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Certificat Avancé from the Sorbonne constituted the mark of a second-class citizen, then the Senate Committee would very well have to live with it. My anger at this point completely dispelled the apprehension I had felt.
When I asked why this question was raised, I learned that an “interested” American citizen from the state of New York had written a letter to a very influential person in Washington who in turn had passed on the letter to Senator Fulbright, challenging me because of “second-class citizenship.” Senator Fulbright had had the decency not to circulate the letter but to turn it over to the Department of State for an answer. I was then shown the very strong reply sent in response to this letter and felt quite reassured. No such question was raised by any Senator during the hearing; the next time I heard about “second-class citizenship” was after I reached Guinea.
When we entered the hearing room in the new Senate Building, it was already filled with spectators. Senator Fulbright, Committee chairman, arrived shortly thereafter, accompanied by Senator Frank J. Lausche (Dem., Ohio), Senator Mike J. Mansfield (Dem., Montana), Senator Theodore Francis Green (then Dem., Rhode Island). Two other Senators, members of the Committee, joined the group later, but for the life of me, I cannot remember who they were.
The two other appointees who were to appear before the Committee were William M. Rountree, a veteran Foreign Service officer of seventeen years’ experience, just completing a three-year term as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, who was scheduled to go as Ambassador to Pakistan; and Dempster McIntosh, onetime president of Philco International Corporation, Ambassador to Uruguay Mid to Venezuela, and the first manager of the Development Loan Fund (1957-1959), who was to be sent as Ambassador to Colombia.
Both Mr. Rountree and Mr. McIntosh had appeared before the Committee before, and I could not see how, with their broad experience, they would have any difficulty. Mr. McIntosh asked to appear first because he had to attend a budget hearing of the Development Loan Fund. He was asked a few routine questions and excused.
Instead of calling upon Mr. Rountree, Senator Fulbright gave permission to the Senators from the state of Washington to make an unscheduled presentation on behalf of a fair which their state wished to sponsor. As these Senators talked, the minutes ticked by and it began to seem as if the proceedings would have to be adjourned for the day before Rountree and I could be questioned. Fortunately, the Senators finished their exposition at 11:30, and Mr. Rountree was called. After a few questions he was excused. My name was called at 11:35, and I came forward; that walk—from the rear of the hearing chamber to the table in front of the dais on which were seated the Committee members—was one of the longest I had ever taken.
I was hardly seated at the table before Senator Fulbright asked me to tell the Committee something about my life and education. I believe that I made one of the briefest statements on record. Then Senator Fulbright asked me if it were not true that I had graduated with honors from Rutgers University and that I had participated in athletics while in college. I answered in the affirmative. The Committee chairman then turned to Senator Mansfield and inquired whether he had any questions. The Senator from Montana proceeded to the most unexpected question of the day. Instead of asking me something about foreign affairs or about my fitness for a diplomatic post, he asked me what the subject of my doctoral dissertation had been. The strangest thing happened at that moment: I could recall the subject of my master’s thesis, but I could not remember the answer to the question asked. As Senator Mansfield smiled, the title came to me: “The Comic Element in A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.” Senator Mansfield said he felt certain that anyone who could master that lengthy work of Proust was equipped to take on the diplomatic assignment in question; he expressed regret that I was not being sent to a larger mission.
At this point Senator Green, the oldest member of the Senate, wanted to know the name of the head of the Guinean Government, the official language of the country, and whether or not I could speak the language. Senator Lausche asked me questions about my family and wanted to know how I had become so interested in advanced studies.
A reporter from Time (June 29, 1959) described the conclusion of my appearance in the following fashion:
Said Ohio’s burly Frank Lausche, with a nod to Arkansan Bill Fulbright, committee chairman, and sworn enemy of noncareer diplomats: “I’m sure you are the type of man that lies dear and close to the heart of what Senator Fulbright feels should be a good ambassador.” Added Fulbright genially: “I think it will be a good experience for you.”
I felt somewhat numb when the hearing was over because I had been waiting for questions on U.S.-African policy and French-Guinean relations, and these had not been asked. I didn’t have the feeling of having participated in a hearing conducted by Senators, but rather of having had the opportunity of talking with fellow professors from neighboring educational institutions. It was not until later, when I reached the Department of State, that I recalled that Senator Fulbright had been a Rhodes scholar, a lecturer in law, and later president of the University of Arkansas; Senator Green had once been an instructor in Roman Law at Brown University; and Senator Mansfield had been professor of history and political science at Montana State University.
My nomination was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on June 18, 1959, and four days later I was sworn in by Wiley Buchanan, Chief of Protocol, in the presence of Secretary of State Christian Herter and other Department officials, Governor Luther B. Hodges of North Carolina, and the members of my family.The deep regret that I had concerning this ceremony was that my parents, who had sacrificed so much for my brothers and sister and for me, were not alive to share this proud moment.
From this point on until sailing time, our work was cut out for us. We had the medical examinations and the inoculations, and received diplomatic passports. My wife, daughter, and son had the task of closing up the house in North Carolina and deciding upon what was to be taken to Guinea and what placed in storage. 1 was faced with briefings, briefings, briefings, which were supposed to prepare me for the problems that I would have to face.
We had decided, immediately after my confirmation, to arrive in Guinea as a family group-a fact which impressed the Guineans very much, as we later learned. My daughter jean had just received her master’s degree from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Work, and we thought the experience would be invaluable for her. It was indeed a graduation present, as I had to pay the passage both ways because my daughter was just turning twenty-one. My fourteenyear-old son John had finished his sophomore year in high school, and the Guinean experience would certainly be of incalculable value for him. As it worked out, my wife, daughter, and son became the most effective American ambassadors to Guinea.
For the next three weeks I was engaged daily in a series of briefings involving not only the Department of State but all the governmental agencies that played any part in foreign affairs. This proved to be a somewhat grueling activity in the heat of Washington, despite the air-conditioned buildings. It was small wonder that foreign diplomats bemoaned the Washington summers. The climate, with its humidity, however, provided a foretaste of what was to come in Africa.
As the days passed, I began to experience some misgivings. Despite the briefings, and the conscientious reading of available documents, I was finding it difficult to ascertain the current United States policy in Africa in general, and in Guinea in particular. I began raising this question each morning with the Foreign Service officer responsible for drawing lip my schedule of appointments, and he assured me that this matter of policy would certainly be covered before my departure. I learned that a mission of the International Co-operation Administration (now the Agency for International Development—AID) had made a survey of Guinean needs and was preparing a report. I did not see it. The embarrassed explanation was given that the Department of State had not yet had access to it, and there was no way of their knowing at that point what recommendations had been made about the extent of aid which the United States might offer to Guinea. I was told that the U.S. Government was interested in securing Guinea’s consent to a plan for guaranteeing foreign investments, and in obtaining Guinea’s support on the regulations pertaining to the “Law of the Sea.”
I began to assess the situation as it appeared to me just a week before the sailing date of July 16. I was about to be sent forth on a tough mission without a full knowledge of the ground rules my country was going to be willing to honor. It had not been possible for me, up to this point, to get official authorization to discuss any specific kind or amount of aid that might help ensure the viability of the struggling nation to which I was being sent. My newness to diplomacy did not keep me from realizing that I ought to have a clear idea of what kind of commitment, if any, the United States intended to make toward the economic, political, and cultural development of this African republic that was being courted by the Communist bloc countries.
I realized that the Bureau of African Affairs had come into existence recently as a result of a law passed by the Eighty-fifth Congress and was not yet fully organized. The friendly and likeable Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Joseph Satterthwaite, was just settling into his new post and was beset with many problems, not the least of which was the effort to help develop an effective U.S. policy in Africa. Prior to the development of the Bureau of African Affairs, United States relations with Africa had been the responsibility of a bureau that also handled Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs. It had been impossible, under the old arrangement, to give Africa the attention it merited. Then suddenly, during the period when the new Bureau of African Affairs was attempting to find its way, the problem of Guinea developed, bringing with it the delicate question of FrenchGuinean relations.
My sympathy certainly was with Mr. Satterthwaite, as it was next to impossible to deal with Guinean matters in the Department of State without consulting with the division that handled French affairs—namely, the Bureau of European Affairs. I soon learned that the Bureau of European Affairs exerted tremendous influence over policy decisions in the Department, and I began to wonder just how much success the new African Bureau would have in vital questions involving French-Guinean matters. It is not in any derogatory sense that I point out that many of the Foreign Service officers in the upper echelons of the Bureau of European Affairs in 1959 and 1960—as well as a number of officials higher up in the Department of State itself—were genuine Francophiles who had enjoyed extended periods of duty in France.
Originally I had been very much surprised that my Government had seen fit to call me out of a classroom to take on a task as delicate and as important as the Guinean mission. But after three weeks in Washington, my surprise diminished as I became aware that there just were not many senior Foreign Service officers in 1959 who were knowledgeable in African affairs, fluent in French, and totally acceptable to a newly independent African nation. I remembered that series of prophetic lectures delivered by Chester Bowles at the University of California in March 1956, in which Bowles had stressed the need for more people in the U.S. State Department with a special knowledge of Africa. Bowles bad called for the assignment to Africa of more able Foreign Service officers who had a background in African problems and were free of racial bias. Bowles had pointed out that American representatives needed to be more aware that they had broader responsibilities than that of merely maintaining daily contact with colonial governments. Referring to his visits to four American consulates in Africa during 1955, Bowles disclosed that only one of these consulates had ever had an African to dinner.
Bowles was of the opinion that American foreign was not adapting itself to the growing anticolonial movement, and he emphasized the necessity of creating a new U.S. foreign policy that would take more account of the African continent.
It took only a short stay in Washington for me to become convinced that scant attention had been paid to such warnings and suggestions. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had decided as early as January of 1958, however, to undertake a thorough review of U.S. foreign policy not only in Africa, but also in the Far East, Near East, South Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Canada. By July of 1958 this Committee had voted to report to the Senate a resolution authorizing a complete study of U.S. foreign policy. The Executive Committee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations then met in January of 1959 to consider proposals and determine which organizations were to undertake the proposed studies. This Executive Committee decided to request the Program of African Studies of Northwestern University, then under the capable direction of Dr. Melville Herskovits, to prepare the report entitled “United States Foreign Policy in Africa,” which was published by the U.S. Government Printing Office on October 23, 1959. However, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations did not hold hearings on this report until March 16, 1960.
Unfortunately for those involved in Guinean affairs at that time, this important report appeared too late to exert any helpful influence on the American effort in Guinea. The real impact of the report was not felt until the Kennedy administration took over in January 1961. Until the Kennedy administration made the distinct attempt to change the U.S. posture in Africa in general, and in Guinea in particular, it was to prove exceedingly difficult to refute the bold assertion of the Herskovits report that the United States had never had a “positive dynamic policy for Africa.”
Halfway through the Washington briefings I learned that the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Guinea had indicated that he wanted to return to the Department. This unexpected request, following only five months of duty in Guinea, was not well received by State Department officials, who anticipated possible misinterpretations of his sudden departure just prior to my arrival. Officials in other agencies responsible for briefing me wasted no time in drawing their own conclusions. They sought to draw me out concerning this unusual development. I asserted that this officer’s desire to leave Guinea had nothing to do with my assignment there. After all, he had been working under great pressure with an inexperienced and insufficient staff. He had probably found serving in Africa quite different from serving in the Far East. He was probably handicapped by Guinean displeasure at the United States’ decision to send a chargé d’affaires rather than an ambassador. I concluded with the observation that little was to be gained by speculation over a perfectly legitimate request to be relieved of an assignment. This officer was still in Guinea when I arrived, and he was very helpful in briefing me; but the fact that he wanted to leave—and did leave shortly thereafter—certainly did not boost the morale of his colleagues left behind.
As I continued my talks with State Department officials and those in other governmental agencies, I began to sense that there was an unwritten policy on Africa which would make it extremely doubtful that the State Department would produce in the foreseeable future a blueprint for coping with the profound political, economic, and cultural changes taking place throughout Africa. The prevailing Washington sentiment on Africa seemed to be that the United States should proceed with “deliberate speed” in any effort to aid the burgeoning African states—particularly those states where European nations had long held major interests. Washington officials were hopeful that the ties, economic and otherwise, which formerly had bound African nations to the British or French, would be sustained in some fashion.
I could understand why Washington officials favored such a practical point of view, for our country could not hope to undertake alone all the economic and technical assistance required by Africa. But these officials were ignoring the fact that most Africans greatly feared continued dependence upon former colonial powers. Indeed, continued dependence was being called “neocolonialism” by Africans opposed to such support.
In Paris in the summer of 1958 I had learned that Africans were looking to the United States as the world power most likely to help them make economic, political, and social progress. African officials and students had followed with great interest our policies in Europe and Asia after the Second World War and had come to believe that the United States would not only have a sympathetic understanding of African ideals and aspirations but also would stand ready to help realize them. These Africans were placing their hope on the facts that the United States had come into existence through revolution and had sponsored the principle of selfdetermination to the farthest parts of the globe. They were unwilling, however, to face the question of whether or not the emerging African nations had the industrial development and the related experience to absorb millions and millions of dollars of economic and technical assistance such as had poured into Europe under the Marshall Plan. Obviously, the economic aspect did not concern them as much as the question of world powers exercising moral leadership.
As the time drew near for me to leave Washington on the first leg of my journey to Guinea, I learned that arrangements had been completed for the delivery to Guinea-at intervals yet to be determined-of a gift from the U.S. of 5,000 tons of rice and 3,000 tons of flour. This news encouraged me as evidence that America was interested in the welfare of the people of Guinea. I was to discover a short time later that on the day of the arrival in Conakry, Guinea, of the first shipment of American rice, 5,000 tons of rice donated by Communist China were already stored in Guinean warehouses.
It was disappointing to learn that the State Department was in a position to allot only three scholarships for Guinean students to come to American educational institutions. One official felt that such grants served only to make foreign students more satisfied with their own country and less willing to return home. For my part, I was thoroughly convinced of the importance of the cultural exchange program, and especially of any program that would bring Guinean students to America, where they could profit from our excellent educational facilities and from personal contact with Africans of all races. I felt that a way must be found to enable Guinean students to study in institutions other than those in Communist bloc countries. I tried repeatedly before leaving Washington to secure a larger number of grants, but did not succeed.
To those who persisted in asking me if I did not feel that I was bein- sent into a rather hopeless situation, particularly since the Communist bloc countries had a nine-month advantage, I replied with an unhesitating No. The Communist bloc countries had had nine months in which to make mistakes. My only hope was that the Guineans were becoming increasingly conscious that the Communists were not twelve feet tall.
The liaison officers at the State Department arranged for me to make a courtesy call on President Eisenhower before my departure from Washington. It was during this call that I learned that arrangements were under way for a state visit by President Touré to the United States in October of 1959. President Eisenhower assured me that the United States would go all out to make the visit a success. He made certain observations on the problems confronting the United States in Africa as well as in Guinea. He emphasized the interest which our country had in the new African republic and asked me to convey this to President Touré. He reminded me that I was to be his personal representative in the Republic of Guinea and that no visiting American, regardless of rank, would outrank me in that regard. The President said that he had received excellent reports about my appearances before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and before numerous officials in the various governmental agencies responsible for briefing me. The President appeared to be in good spirits and in excellent health as he talked in a relaxed fashion, seated at his desk with his back to Pennsylvania Avenue, where the traffic moved in a continuous now. As I rose to leave, I realized that I would not see the President again until October. I was hoping that things in Guinea would have taken a turn for the better by that time.
I left Washington and returned to Durham to complete the inevitable last-minute packing. My family and I then drove to New York.
As we boarded the United States in New York on the morning of July 16 for the first part of our journey to Guinea, the only one who felt sad about our departure was my son John, Jr. He had had to leave behind his Irish setter, Kim. It was not until the very last moment that John had consented to turn Kim over to a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the father of three children who wanted a dog badly.
I was not the happiest person in the world as I set out on this mission, because my Government had not yet decided upon a firm policy as far as Guinea was concerned. I resolved to overcome this handicap by maintaining a foot-in-the-door position, while attempting to win the confidence and the respect of the President of the Republic of Guinea, his Government and his people.
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