With Touré in America


Guinée — Etats-Unis d’Amérique

John H. Morrow
First American Ambassador to Guinea.

New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 1968. 291 p.

With Touré in America

As the time drew near for President TourCs state visit to the United States, I had to devote an everincreasing amount of time to the many details to be settled before his arrival. The State Department readily assented to my suggestion that I arrive in Washington a week before the Guinean delegation to assist in last-minute preparations. I did not want anything to mar this visit, for I knew that all leaders in Africa were watching to see how Touré was received. They hoped to detect whether or not any changes in United States policies toward Africa were in the making. There was no question in my mind that Negro as well as white Americans were also going to be watching the drama inherent in the reception by one of the world’s most powerful nations of the young African who had persuaded his people to say No to De Gaulle.
Before leaving for Washington I had tried without success to settle the question of transportation for the delegation from Conakry to New York. I was informed that President Touré wanted to be sure that the plane he boarded was not going to stop in any territory still under French jurisdiction. This ruled out using Air France. I could not get a satisfactory answer to the question about the regulations governing the tise of Military Air Transport Service planes in the transportation of foreign heads of state outside the borders of the United States. No commercial airlines of Western powers, other than France, were interested at that time in establishing passenger service in Guinea. When I left Conakry for the United States on October 19, 1959, the only thing I knew for certain regarding the Touré visit was that Touré was going to keep his word and begin his series of state visits by coming first to the United States. He was not going to Russia first, as reported in some quarters.
It was not until after I had departed that the transportation dilemma was solved through the generosity of Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who placed at President Touré’s disposal a Ghanaian Airlines plane to make connections with the Pan American flight. Thanks to Nkrumah, the delegation was able to board the plane that touched down late Sunday afternoon, October 25, at New York’s International Airport. I did not have to be on hand in New York since the official visit did not start until the following day in Washington. President and Mrs. Touré and a party of six were met by Guinean Ambassador and Mrs. Telli Diallo, U.S. Protocol Chief Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr., and some New York officials.
The following day the Military Air Transport Service plane bearing the Guinean delegation landed promptly at 12:00 noon E.S.T., at the terminal in Washington. President Touré was the first to descend from the plane; he saw, among others waiting below to greet him, Vice-President and Mrs. Nixon, Secretary of State and Mrs. Christian Herter, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and Mrs. Lemnitzer, the dean of the diplomatic corps and Mrs. Sevilla-Sacasa, numerous Washington officials, and myself.
Ambassador Diallo, Vice-President Nixon, Protocol Chief Buchanan, and I accompanied President Touré to the speaker’s platform and stood with him during the airport ceremonies. The twenty-one gun salute, the Guinean and American national anthems, and the inspection of the honor guard by President Touré were followed by brief speeches by the Vice-President and Touré. Nixon assured Touré America would receive him warmly because of the personal interest Americans had in him and the future of his country. Touré expressed the hope that his visit would bring closer relations between the United States and Guinea as well as with other emerging African nations. I was indeed moved by the occasion.
Our motorcade departure from the terminal en route to Blair House, the President’s guest house on Pennsylvania Avenue, by way of the traditional Washington parade route, signaled the beginning of twelve of the fullest days I have ever spent. It was exhilarating to see the more than 250,000 people standing along the route to catch a glimpse of the man who had taken the dramatic and solitary stand against Charles de Gaulle. The Washington onlookers, I felt, were very generous with their applause, and the visitors were pleased with the warm reception on that chilly October day. The same was to be true in New York some ten days later, when an even larger crowd greeted the visitors during a ticker-tape parade from the Battery to City Hall. By mistake New York had on display Ghanaian flags instead of Guinean—they look quite similar.
The white-tie state dinner given that night by the President and Mrs. Eisenhower in honor of President and Mrs. Touré marked my second visit to the White House. As the car in which I was riding came to a stop under the portico, the real significance of the situation suddenly struck me, and I thought that only in America could something like this happen. I, a slave’s grandson, was entering the official residence of the President of the United States. I was to be escorted down the long corridor to the East Room by an army officer in full-dress uniform. At the door of the East Room my name and title would be announced. Between the moment of leaving the car and mounting the White House steps, a feeling of deep regret swept over me; regret that my wife, daughter, and son were far away in Guinea and not on hand to share this historic evening with me; regret that my parents were not living to see the fulfillment of their prophecy that equality of opportunity would prevail one day in America.
When President and Mrs. Eisenhower and their guests had descended from the upstairs living quarters, those of us assembled in the East Room walked slowly as couples to the State Dining Room at the opposite end of the White House, where tables glistening with silverware, glassware, and emblazoned dishes, and decorated with beautiful flowers, awaited us.
I had the good fortune to be seated between the beautiful and charming Mrs. Gregor Piatigorsky, wife of the famous cellist, and Ambassador George V. Allen, then Director of USIA. The evening passed quickly and pleasantly. Polite speeches of welcome and acknowledgment were made by Presidents Eisenhower and Tour& Gregor Piatigorsky was in excellent form for the concert that concluded the evening. The real high point of the dinner, however, was the incredible performance of Colonel Walters, the interpreter, who presented us with the French version of Eisenhower’s speech, and the English version of TourCs reply. Without notes or props, Walters gave the complete Eisenhower speech. He translated Touré’s reply paragraph by paragraph, and this was no small feat because Touré spoke in long sentences. Only a skillful interpreter could have done justice to Touré’s eloquent French. If Colonel Walters’ virtuosity had impressed me at the dinner, I was even more impressed during the meeting that took place between Presidents Eisenhower and Touré the next morning.
A private meeting had been arranged for the two Presidents, but President Touré made it known that he wanted to be accompanied by:

  • President of the Guinean National Assembly Saifoulaye Diallo
  • the Economy Minister, Louis-Lansana Béavogui
  • Interior Minister Fodéba Keita

This change in plan caused me to accompany Secretary of State Herter and Assistant Secretary Satterthwaite to the Tuesday morning meeting at the White House. Guinean Ambassador Telli Diallo was also present.
We heard a very stimulating and exceedingly frank exchange of views between the two Presidents, with Colonel Walters again serving as interpreter. An hour later we left the White House to attend a meeting at the State Department presided over by Undersecretary of State Robert Murphy. A joint working party was set up after this meeting to iron out the details of a cultural agreement, which was signed on Wednesday morning by Secretary Herter and Minister B6avogui, who was appointed Acting Foreign Minister on the spot by President Touré for the signing ceremony. Ambassador Diallo and I were asked to sign as witnesses. (I later received an autographed photograph of the signing ceremony from Secretary Herter.)
President Touré made a memorable,appearance before the National Press Club at the luncheon which immediately followed the Tuesday meeting at the State Department. He spoke and accepted questions from the floor which he parried with the skill acquired in debates at Paris, Dakar, and Conakry, impressing veterans of the press with his stage presence. That same night we attended a dinner at the Anderson House given by Secretary and Mrs. Herter-a most gracious host and hostess.
The afternoon of our last day in Washington (Wednesday, October 28), President and Mrs. Touré gave a luncheon in honor of President and Mrs. Eisenhower in the State Room of the Mayflower Hotel.
Between the official obligations of the Washington visit, President Touré, the Guinean delegation, and I journeyed by presidential helicopter to Mount Vernon; participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National Cemetery in Arlington; visited the AFL-CIO Headquarters for a talk with President George Meany; attended a reception at the Africa House given by the African Students Association; visited Howard University and met the president and faculty; and visited the Mosque of the Washington Islamic Center. President and Mrs. Touré attended a reception given in their honor by the Chiefs of Mission of Guinea, Liberia, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Ethiopia, the United Arab Republic, and Ghana.
Contrary to the predictions of those who had dubbed Touré a “hard-headed Marxist theorist but not a Communist” and had insisted that he would straddle the fence between the East and the West to obtain aid from both sides, Touré made no requests for American aid during his visit. His failure to do so surprised even some career diplomats. The African statesman did not request aid at any one of the capitals visited during his forty-one day tour, and his return to Conakry in December contrasted sharply with the August 1959 return of National Assembly President Diallo and Minister of Public Works lsmael Touré from Russia, bringing back the offer of a $35 million line of credit from the Soviet Union.
Touré later explained to his people why he had not requested any aid during his visit to America:

We found in the United States a real desire to come to our assistance, but we refused to present demands of this nature. Everybody knows perfectly well the different needs of different people reported to be poor. It isn’t radical nature which determines the quality of the needs, but the economic state. Consequently, nations that really wish to aid Guinea or any other developing people don’t have to wait to be solicited. We are certainly not going to disguise ourselves as beggars to explain our indigence which everybody knows, which everybody canappreciate, and to which each one can, loyally and in strict respect of our sovereignty, bring remedy. If we have placed African dignity so high, it is not to bargain it tomorrow against a few subsidies which, in the final analysis, could not radically suppress the effects of spoliation, exploitation, oppression, and depersonalization to which colonialism caused us to submit. (Secretary General, PDG, Rapport d’Orientation, April, 1960, p. 29.)

On the surface, the Washington phase of the visit had gone off with clocklike precision and had been eminently successful. Our guests, however, were quite disappointed on two scores, and rather dissatisfied on a third. They knew that President Eisenhower had come to the airport to welcome the President of Mexico and Premier Khrushchev of Russia. They had expected him to come to meet President Touré also. They were not impressed by the fact that Vice-President Nixon had cut short a Miami vacation to greet Touré, nor did they wish to accept the explanation that President Eisenhower’s bronchitis kept him from attending the ceremony on that chilly autumn day. The Guineans were further dismayed when they learned that Protocol Chief Wiley Buchanan, who had accompanied Premier Khrushchev on his U.S. tour, had assigned his deputy to accompany President Touré. They assumed that their visit was being downgraded.
The third problem arose on the eve of Touré’s departure from Washington and concerned the State Department interpreter assigned for Touré’s speeches. The Guineans had been most happy with Colonel Walters. They were very unhappy when they learned that the interpreter assigned to cover Touré’s speech at the Africa House would accompany the President throughout America. Their unhappiness was registered with the Department and with me in no uncertain terms, but it was not possible at that late date to supply a substitute. The situation became such before the tour was over that the Department had to provide another interpreter for the Touré speeches during the New York phase of the trip.
There had been so many invitations from groups and organizations wishing to entertain the Guinean President that the protocol division had experienced some difficulty in narrowing down the choices. There was also the question of the cities to be visited. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were selected without difficulty. Omal, Ohio, was added because Guinean bauxite was turned into aluminum at the huge Olin Mathieson plant there. President Touré wanted to visit Atlanta, the “gateway to the South,” because his friend President Tubman of Liberia had visited this city during his 1954 visit to America. It was recalled that the Governor of Georgia had not received Tubman, and there was no desire on the part of American officials to risk a similar slight in the case of President Touré. The problem of a visit to a city in the South was settled when Governor Luther H. Hodges of North Carolina issued an invitation for President Touré and his party to be the guests of his state. This was a most fortunate turn of events, for it meant that the delegation went “down South” with the assurance that they would be received with all the dignity and respect due foreign guests of the United States Government.
The State Department did not follow the usual procedure of having the American Ambassador participate only in the Washington and New York phases of a state visit, and sent me on the entire trip with the Guineans. I was delighted at the prospect of returning to North Carolina, where I had lived from 1956 to 1959. From the moment our plane landed at Raleigh-Durham Airport (Wednesday, October 28, 4:15 P.M.), where we were met by Governor and Mrs. Hodges and other officials, until we departed the next day (3:40 P.M.), the visit was an outstanding success. A large contingent of students and faculty members from North Carolina College and citizens from Durham had been at the airport to greet us. We were carried swiftly by automobile from the airport to the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill. The Inn was operated by the University of North Carolina, and the visit of the Touré delegation marked the first time in its history that nonwhite guests remained overnight.
That night, on the campus of the University of North Carolina, a reception and dinner were given by Governor and Mrs. Hodges in honor of President and Mrs. Touré Governor Hodges and President Touré made brief after dinner speeches. The reception had been somewhat delayed by a news conference held by Touré with the more than thirty reporters covering the historic visit to Chapel Hill. The news conference afforded me a glimpse of another side of the Touré personality. Touré was repeatedly questioned about his opinions on the American race problem, discrimination, and segregation. Instead of seizing upon these questions as an excuse for getting off steam about America’s Achilles’ heel, the Guinean leader refused to be drawn into a discussion. He said that he could not answer such questions because he did not have the proper information.
Touré told the reporters that he was happy to visit the University of North Carolina and admired greatly the culture which it represented. He said that he had come to the United States with the hope of explaining and conveying a clearer understanding of Guinea’s problems. To a question on Guinea’s policy of neutralism in the cold war, Touré answered that he was concerned with the problems of developed and developing nations rather than with a struggle between the West and the East. He remarked that a poor man could not be asked to choose between diamonds and gold from New York, Paris, or Moscow, for he would take these things where he found them. Touré suggested that reporters should be more objective in reporting events in Guinea. He was alluding, of course, to the many articles by American journalists depicting his Government in a most unfavorable light. Touré concluded the news conference with the assertion that Africans already had the framework for a “United States of Africa,” and needed only to define the content.
The next morning President Touré received an honorary degree from North Carolina College in Durham. He was luncheon guest of Dr. Hollis Eden, President of Duke University, also in Durham.
The Durham Morning Herald (Thursday, October 29, 1959) observed in an editorial entitled “Welcome Visit by New Nation’s President”:

Durham gained an extra interest in United States relations with the new state of Guinea when Prof. John H. Morrow of North Carolina College became this country’s first Ambassador to the former French colony.
That interest is now heightened by the visit here of Guinea’s first head of state, President Sékou Touré As with all distinguished visitors, we are, of course, proud and happy that President Touré has included Durham and North Carolina in his personal inspection of the United States.
The reason a leader of the nationalistic spirit sweeping across central Africa should include a Southern tour in his itinerary is obvious. While this reason requires that we not only shoulder the normal responsibilities of good hosts but take on the responsibility of showing how we are striving to overcome difficult problems, the chance to provide the Guinean President with a first-hand perspective on actual attitudes and conditions is a welcome one.
President Touré, like us, has problems that should be better understood for his visit. Cut adrift by France with virtually no industry and a painful shortage of trained leaders in all fields, Guinea is truly beginning its national history from scratch.
Dependency like the recently discarded colonialism is anathema to the surge of African nationalism which rightly seeks national integrity even if it seeks economic solvency. So President Touré looks on us, as he has said, “with the eyes of Africa,” to find out if the United States “stands for freedom or foreign subjugation of peoples whose only demand is the application of the same principles upon which the United States was founded.”

In a final interview with newsmen at the Raleigh-Durham Airport that afternoon, Touré said that he was very happy with his visit to North Carolina, and that he had received a good impression of the state and of its people. In reply to the query as to whether the visit had changed any of his conceptions of southern racial relations, Touré said that the visit had served to reinforce his previous conceptions. If his ideas had not been favorable before leaving Guinea, he would not have come. He had asked to see the South, Touré said, because he wished to see the diversity of the United States.
We were officially welcomed to Chicago the next day (Friday, October 30) by Mayor Richard J. Daley in an outdoor ceremony, followed by a luncheon given by the Mayor. We went to nearby Evanston to attend a tea given by Dr. Melville Herskovits, then Director of the African Program at Northwestern University. The Guineans enjoyed conversing with the lively and interesting Dr. Herskovits and his wife. We left Evanston to attend a buffet dinner given that night by Adlai E. Stevenson at his residence in Libertyville, Illinois. Governor Stevenson had resumed his law practice after his second unsuccessful attempt as a presidential candidate. In the very congenial atmosphere of the Stevenson home, Touré had the opportunity to meet some of the most influential men in American business.
Departing from Chicago’s Midway Airport at 9:00 C.S.T. the next morning, we reached Los Angeles at 3:00 P.M. P.S.T. Saturday. It was during the flight to Los Angeles on the Military Air Transport Service plane that the members of the Guinean delegation really began to relax. They told me how much they had been touched by their reception by the American people. They were amazed at the vastness of America, the diversity of the people, and the freedom they enjoyed. They spoke respectfully of Eisenhower as a great military Icader, and singled out Secretary of State Herter as the governmental head with whom they would like most to deal, because of his human kindness, honesty, sincerity, and respect for others. The Guineans stopped lowering their voices or changing the subject of conversation when I moved down the aisle or took an adjacent seat. We became a traveling team and remained thus until the trip was over. It was during this leg of the journey that President Touré dubbed Minister Béavogui, Minister Keita, and myself the “Three Musketeers” because we had stood together in all of the receiving lines and were the only members of the delegation who didn’t drink fruit juice.
The calculated risk taken by the Department in assigning me to travel throughout the country with the group was paying off. The risk involved was the possibility of conflicts of personality among individuals traveling together in close quarters for a period of almost two weeks. The trip gave us the chance to get to know one another extremely well. The Guineans came to appreciate the United States more and to understand Americans better. The understanding which developed during this American visit withstood the crises and the strained relations that threatened United States-Guinea rapport during the rest of my tour of duty in Guinea.
The most significant event of the Los Angeles visit was the little publicized meeting in Disneyland between President Touré and John F. Kennedy, who at that time was Senator from the state of Massachusetts. This private meeting had been planned originally for Sunday evening at the Ambassador Hotel, but had been changed to Sunday morning (November 1) at Disneyland. This was indeed a historic meeting between the two young leaders—one who was destined to become President of this great land, and one who had won independence for his nation. Senator Kennedy was then chairman of the subcommittee on Africa of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He had expressed a point of view about Algerian independence that did not place him on the side of the French.
After introductions, the two men exchanged pleasantries about each other’s youthful appearance and implied that youth was probably an important attribute for a leader in today’s world. Senator Kennedy then expressed his keen interest in Guinean independence and in the struggle confronting Touré to maintain this independence. Turning to me, he said that, with all due respect to me and to the party which I represented, he would like to go on record as assuring President Touré that, if the Democratic Party came into power in the 1960 election, it would certainly have a great interest in the progress of Guinea and other emerging nations of Africa. Senator Kennedy wished President Touré well in his efforts to improve conditions in Guinea, and quipped that at least the latter had only one political party to deal with in Guinea, even though its symbol was an elephant (Syli).
In reply, President Touré expressed warmly his appreciation to the Senator for his willingness to confer with the delegation, and for his expression of interest in the Guinean experience. Touré assured him that such personal contact was most important in fostering better understanding and improvcd relations among nations. Touré made it clear that he and his colleagues had followed with great interest the Senator’s stand on the question of Algerian independence. He concluded by wishing Kennedy continuing success in his future political endeavors. The next time they met was at the White House in 1962, when Touré conferred with Kennedy as President of the United States.
Something in the personality of this young, handsome, well-poised Senator struck a responsive chord in the Guineans. They were not more enthusiastic in their reactions to any other American than they were to Kennedy. They praised his youth, his courage, his astonishing knowledge of world affairs in general, and of the problems of developing countries in particular. They enjoyed the distinction drawn by Kennedy between the policies on Africa pursued by the two major American political parties. They believed what Kennedy had said concerning Guinea and Africa if the Democratic Party won the November 1960 election.
When the Guineans returned to Conakry, they were still talking about their meeting with Kennedy in Disneyland. There were no observers of the American political campaign of 1960 more interested than were the men who had visited America and had met Kennedy. Minister Fodéba Keita, after apologizing for appearing to interfere in the internal affairs of my country, told me that if he were an American, he would certainly vote for Kennedy because of the quality of his leadership. The Guineans were very happy when they learned in August 1960 that Kennedy, the Democratic presidential candidate, was sending Governor Averell Harriman to Africa on a fact-finding mission that included Guinea in its itinerary. They were even more elated when Kennedy was elected President, and they were shocked and genuinely grieved by the loss of the young President to an assassin’s bullet in November 1963.

After we left Los Angeles, we spent a night in Wheeling, West Virginia, and the next morning visited the Olin Mathieson aluminum plant in Omal, Ohio. We reached Ncw York on Wednesday, November 4, where we were welcomed by a ticker-tape parade, and President Touré was presented with the key to the city by the Acting Mayor, Abraham Stark. This ceremony was followed by a luncheon at the Commodore Hotel given by Mr. Stark. Later that afternoon we met Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the New York Museum of Primitive Art and were taken by the Governor on a personally conducted tour of the Museum. Governor Rockefeller commented on the collection in fluent French. President Touré inaugurated an exhibit of Guinean art. A round-table discussion on Africa with the members of the Council on Foreign Relations at the Pratt House was followed by a dinner given at the Waldorf-Astoria by the African-American Institute.
In the Waldorf lobby just before dinner Ambassador Diallo disclosed that it had been decided to call off the state visit to Canada, scheduled to begin Friday, November 6. Diallo said that he could give me no details on the reason for this decision, but that Canadian officials were being informed at that very moment. I told Diallo that I hoped his delegation had prepared a statement for the press, and he indicated that a statement was being prepared.
Ambassador Diallo and I entered the Jansen Suite where the dinner was to be held and found our places on the dais. We had hardly settled in our chairs before several reporters appeared on the floor below. One enterprising reporter jumped up on the dais, crawled under the table, and popped up next to my chair. He said the word was out that the Guinean delegation had suddenly canceled the visit to Canada, and wanted to know the reason. I told him I had no information, and I referred him to Ambassador Diallo. After conferring with the Ambassador, the reporter returned to me and repeated his question. I merely shrugged my shoulders. During the course of the evening the scene just described was repeated several times and gained a certain comic effect.
There were numerous conjectures in the press the following day about the cancellation of the Canada visit. It was noted that two Guinean Ministers had arrived the previous day, and questions were raised about reports emanating from Guinea of unrest and disorders among the people. Also suggested was the possibility of a serious disagreement between the Guinean Government and the corporation Aluminium of Canada, which extracted bauxite from the Los Islands just off the shore of Conakry.
Canadian authorities were very much put out at the unexpected turn of events because they had scheduled a full-scale program for the visit. The Guineans never did reveal the Imuson tile Canadian visit was canceled.
On Thursday, November 5, President Touré attended a luncheon in his honor at the United Nations, given by Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. The Guinean President was to address a session of the General Assembly after the luncheon. He had been puzzled by the omission of my name from the list of those invited to the luncheon and had asked Ambassador Telli Diallo to inquire about this seeming oversight. Diallo was informed that it was customery for the United States to have only one Ambassador in attendance at such affairs and since Ambassador Lodge had been invited, I was not. The Guineans felt that this was a very peculiar protocol arrangement, and expressed their regrets to mr that I was not to be present.
I met President Touré and his colleagues after the luncheon and went with them to the General Assembly. The President’s entrance was applauded by all the delegates with the exception of the French, who remained silent throughout Toure’s speech. Touré declared in eloquent French that even though the newly independent African nations stood in need of assistance, they would not accept “paternalism” in any form, and they would not be taken in tow by either the Western or Eastern bloc. He said that Africa was seeking the kind of assistance that would help it free itself from foreign pressures and exploitation. He characterized the newly formed French Community of African states as a “union of rider and horse,” and he asserted that the friendship of Africans was going to those who would help break the chains that imprisoned them. At the conclusion of his speech Touré was roundly applauded.
We were escorted to a downstairs conference room, where the Guinean delegation met with the Afro-Asian group. I had not being told about this meeting and inadvertently went along with President Touré and his colleagues. The room seemed to be somewhat crowded, and I saw Krishna Menon of India conferring with several delegates. I asked one of the delegates standing nearby what was going to happen. He said that President Touré would address a special session of the Afro-Asian group. As I turned to make my way to the door, Krishna Menon called the meeting to order. The Guinean Ministers told me that I should not leave before the President spoke, so there I was.
At the close of the session, photographers took pictures of the assemblage. The Guineans were much amused later when they saw a picture in the newspapers with the caption “President Touré and his Cabinet,” because I could be seen in the background. They thought it was amusing that their “American brother,” as they now called me, had attended the Afro-Asian meeting by mistake and had been taken for a member of Sékou Touré’s Cabinet.
Although the state visit ended officially with Touré’s appearance at the United Nations, the State Department asked me to remain with the delegation until it left New York for London on Monday night, November 9. The decision not to go to Canada necessitated this shift in plans. The security officers remained on duty also. We were present, therefore, to witness an event which almost marred the good results achieved during the official phase of the Touré visit.
A certain New York impresario had convinced somebody that President Touré should come to Harlem for a parade and a program at the 369th Artillery Armory. Many of Harlem’s leading citizens knew nothing about these plans until they had been agreed upon. On a rainy Saturday afternoon Touré rode through the Harlem streets in an open car and stopped off at the Armory where a crowd had gathered to hear him speak.
As the President of the New York Chapter of the NAACP moved up to the microphone, a series of loud boos and whistles came from the audience. The Guinean Ministers and Ambassador Telli Diallo rushed over to me on the speaker’s platform to find out what was happening and particularly whether this disrespect was directed toward their leader. They suggested that we leave at once. I was as puzzled as they, but I consulted hurriedly with New York officials, who informed me that a feud existed between nationalist groups and the NAACP. They assured me that no disrespect was intended for President Touré. The Guineans, though not complete y reassured by this information, decided to stay.
Order was finally restored, but the NAACP official never did get the chance to make his welcoming speech. Touré’s speech, delivered through an interpreter who had replaced the one so severely criticized by Ambassador Diallo, was well received. President Touré later brushed aside the incident and said that people all over the world had disagreements, regardless of color. One Harlem newspaper, the Amsterdam News, warned that such incidents might cause the State Department to make Harlem off limits to visiting diplomats.
A side effect of the Guinean visit to America became apparent seven months later at a May Day celebration in Conakry. Until that time I had had no reason to recall an incident the day we reached Los Angeles that previous october. Ministers Fodéba Keita and Louis-Lansana Béavogui had been very much impressed by the eye-catching maneuvers and skillful riding of the motorcycle police escort during our swift journey from Los Angeles International Airport to the Ambassador Hotel. No sooner had we reached the hotel than the two Ministers asked me to introduce them to the escort squadron leader. With me as interpreter, they proceeded to ask the policeman all sorts of technical questions concerning the motorcycles. Pressed for time, I tactfully suggested to the Ministers that we could get additional information later. The matter didn’t come up again, and I gave it no further thought.
On the morning of May 1, 1960, in downtown Conakry, I took the seat reserved for me in the reviewing stand and talked quietly with British chargé Hugh Jones and Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Hillel as we awaited President Touré and other dignitaries. After a short wait the President appeared, descended from his new black Cadillac, and mounted the stand amid the applause of the throng packed behind the police lines along the broad boulevard. I was slightly puzzled at the conspicuous absence of the usual police escort, but forgot about this as the ceremonies began. Suddenly, from the distance could be heard a noise that resembled the sound of airplane engines warming up. The crowd in the street turned as one person in the direction of the sound, but those of us in the sland could see nothing. At the precise moment when President Touré took his seat in the stand, there appeared a detail of motorcycle police elegantly dressed in new uniforms and white gloves, and mounted on huge and powerful Harley Davidson motorcycles that glistened in the sun.The cowded resounded with shouts and the gleeful chapping of hands. From all sides of the square came the cry: “Amérique! Amérique! Amérique!”
I became conscious that the spectators near the reviewing stand were looking in my direction and applauding. I did the only polite thing I could think of, which was to return the recognition by waving to them. How was I to let them know that I was assurprised as they were to see those motorcycles? No agreement had been signed between the United States and Guinea at that stage. These motorcyles must have been purchased as a result of initiative taken by the Guinean Government, with its own funds. The populace interpreted the miraculous appearance of impressive-looking motorcycles as further evidence of American interest in
Guinean development. They might have been shocked to discover that I preferred assistance in the areas of health and education as evidences of American interest.
Seated just two places to my left in the reviewing stand that morning was Ambassador Vladimir Knap of Czechoslovakia. His usually smiling countenance was an interesting study in crimson and somberness. Looking at the Ambassador caused me to realize that on this day we had something in common—surprise. Knap was just as dumfounded as I to discover that those choice motorcycles so nobly supplied by his country through barter trade agreements had been replaced by American motorcycles. For him this meant a loss of face and an apparent closeness in ties between America and Guinea which he had had no cause to suspect until this sleight of hand on a May Day morning.
Of course, Knap was wrong in surmising that the new machines had any political significance; but I did enjoy the spot lie was in. My colleagues in the diplomatic corps would have adjudged me the biggest hypocrite in Guinea had I tried to convince them that I was not a part of this plot to show off American technological superiority. I found out that the machines had been received in Guinea and hidden in a warehouse. Arrangements had been made for police officers to learn to handle the powerful motorcycles in secret in an outlying village. The machines were brought into Conakry for the first time that morning and unveiled just before parade time.
After the President’s speech and the parade, I walked up to Ministers Keita and Béavogui, who were smiling broadly as I approached. I shook their hands and admitted that they had really put one over on me. What I did not tell them was that they had put one over on Ambassador Knap also, and had at the same time helped my situation in Guinea a great deal.