187. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • African Reaction to Recent U.S. Civil Rights Developments

African reaction to the passage of the civil rights bill has been highly favorable, although some evidence exists of an increasing impatience with what is regarded as the lagging eradication of racial discrimination in the United States.

The significance of the bill’s passage has been a major theme at the Cairo meeting of the Organization of African Unity.2

Guinea’s President Sekou Toure, speaking of the civil rights bill’s passage, told the African summit conference that “in America, the colored people engaged in the struggle for social progress and racial equality have just won a great victory . …”

In his conference address, Sudan’s President Abboud expressed the hope that the “American civil rights bill be speedily put into execution lest the reactionaries should gain with their right hand what their left has lost.” Kenya’s Prime Minister Kenyatta, on the other hand, attacked the continued existence of racial discrimination and stated that this was an area in which the United States could learn from independent Africa. Also speaking at the OAU meeting, President Nasser said: “We can complete the siege around South Africa and Rhodesia where hateful discrimination is practised,” adding that “one of the promising signs in this connection is the adoption of the civil rights bill in the U.S.”

President Nasser’s comments linking the civil rights bill with the advance of African liberation is a new theme so far receiving only sparse play in African media reaction. Sudan’s Al-Telegraph said that the bill indicated U.S. “support for the world struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa” and “the nearing victory of the national forces against the attempts of the white man in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia.” President Abboud’s reaction expressing concern about U.S. reactionaries was also carried by Ghanaian Radio on July 16, which said that Senator Goldwater’s nomination reflected the fact among other things that the “civil rights issue has frightened many Americans who feel that [Page 284]things are slipping beyond their control.” The commentator described Goldwater’s views as “coinciding with those of the John Birch society—a racist, rightist, America-first political movement whose support Goldwater has never repudiated.”

The Nigerian Radio, which is ordinarily quite friendly to the United States, expressed the belief on July 9 that previous Presidents could have stamped out discrimination if they had used the full powers of their office. The radio also commented that “President Johnson is the only person who can arrest the present violence in the southern states and effectively enforce the new bill,” and that “if he fails to show the necessary courage, the new law can from the beginning be dismissed as a dead letter.”

In other reaction, African press and radio comment continues to be highly favorable. Africans view the bill as a great tribute to President Kennedy and commend you for securing its passage. They see the bill as giving the Federal Government power to enforce the Constitution and as guaranteeing to Negroes the legal rights hitherto guaranteed only to whites. Some comment has viewed the bill as a challenge to Americans to act in accordance with professed beliefs, while other comment has expressed the opinion that the majority of Americans will obey the law.

Comment indicates that Africans are keeping a watchful eye on the bill’s implementation. Nigerians, for example, are dismayed by the recent outbreak of violence in the U.S. and what they see as Federal inaction and are alarmed by Senator Goldwater’s nomination, which they fear represents white backlash and the increased strength of reactionaries. We can expect the Harlem riots to be given massive coverage and to set in motion a severe adverse reaction that will erode much of the benefit that we had hoped we would achieve with the civil rights legislation.

Carl T. Rowan 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Africa, General, Vol. II, Memos & Miscellaneous, 7/64–6/65. No classification marking. Drafted by Lester E. Edmond, Executive Assistant to the Director.
  2. For text of a resolution adopted at the Cairo OAU Conference, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, p. 739.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.