Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-four years ago today, Martch 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order #10924 creating the Peace Corps.
President Kennedy described the corps as both a means of giving young Americans an opportunity to answer his call to service and to counter anti-American viewpoints around the world.
Congress passed the Peace Corps Act in September 1961 "...to help the people of such countries in meeting their needs for trained volunteers."
The idea for such a venture can be traced back to Rev. James H. Robinson,* a native of JFK+50's hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. Rev. Robinson became Executive Director of Operation Crossroads Africa and served in that position until his death.
Rev. Robinson, visiting Africa in 1954, suggested the Presbyterian Church consider sending physicians, engineers and other professionals to help the people of Africa rather than missionaries.
His ideas gained support from William O. Douglas and Theodore Hesburgh as well as African leaders. The OCA, established in 1958, built schools, clinics and orphanages on the Continent.
President Kennedy and Peace Corps director Sargeant Shriver consulted with Rev. Robinson who became Vice-Chairman of the National Advisory Council of the Peace Corps. Within two years, the PC attracted 7300 volunteers serving in 44 countries. As of 2009, the PC was at work in 68 countries.
In an editorial on the merits of the Peace Corps, The Nation said...
"There should not be a single day of unnecessary delay. The way in which this project is managed and whether the enthusiasm is sustained or dies away...will be a test of America's qualifications for international cooperation in the sixties.
The light which performance in this project will throw on the United States will be only less important than the help it may give to other countries. If a new missile were involved, and hundreds of millions of dollars in profit, the necessary urgency would automatically be generated.
Here there is no profit and no opportunity for mass slaughter. It is a novel kind of challenge."
*James Herman Robinson (1907-1972) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up in the downtown area along First Creek. He was influenced by a grandfather who had been a slave and fought for the Union in the Civil War.
His family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when JHR was 10. He enrolled at Lincoln University in Oxford, PA in 1931 & in 1933 he oversaw a small black congregation in Bearden back in his hometown of Knoxville, TN.
JHR graduated valedictorian from LU in 1935 and then attended Union Theological Seminary. He became pastor of Harlem's Morningside Presbyterian Church and established Morningside Community Center.
An advisor to both JFK & LBJ, he was appointed to the State Department's Advisory Council of African Affairs.
"March 1, 1961: JFK Creates the Peace Corps," by Richard Kreitner and The Almanac, March 1, 2015, www.thenation.com/
The Papers of James Herman Robinson, by James H. Albins
JFK greeting Peace Corps volunteers