2. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Roy Wilkins 1

[Omitted here is discussion of issues other than foreign relations.]

President: Now let me ask you this. They tell me that we shouldn’t send a Negro to an African country as an ambassador. Is that true?

Wilkins: The Africans have strenuously denied it when we have confronted them with it. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. All I can say is that diplomatically they have said no. Some of them have been vehement in denying it. Others have said this is silly. And I don’t know exactly how they feel about it. I would say that if you made a uniform practice of assigning Negroes—or such Negroes as you had—to African countries, they would resent it. You understand.

President: I agree with that. But we’ve got’em in Scandinavia and we’ve got’em in other countries, and what I want to do is enlarge ’em a little more. They don’t have their twelve percent. Now I’m not a percentage man, but if we can find some of the top people in this country—I mean you take either of the [unintelligible] would be wonderful ambassadors to some country, but top men. I would like to get’em up to where they are at least in walking distance of the rest of us.

Wilkins: Exactly.

President: I can’t do it though if I’ve got twenty or thirty Latin American countries and thirty-odd African countries and they’re just barred because somebody says so. Now I thought it was the Negro community in this country that was objecting to it.

Wilkins: No, they wouldn’t object like the Africans would object if it became a uniform policy. I don’t believe they would object. The Africans are the ones.

President: We’ve got one in Sweden now, and Goodman, on my Scandinavian trip, a Negro. So I’m going to try to have one or two, and you might get one or two of the most outstanding ones that you know in the United States. You ought to have me a list of that. You better just go to work, and if you want Whitney Young or somebody, get some real outstandingly—the worse job I can perform is to name one that’s a failure.

Wilkins: That’s true. That’s very true, and I agree with you one hundred percent.

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President: And I don’t know this field as well as you do. I’m going to rely on you, so you get four or five of the top ones that are like Bob Weaver or like Carl Rowan.

Wilkins: Very good, Mr. President. In the meanwhile I’ll make additional inquiries among the Africans.

President: You do that and you talk to anybody that you want to about Carl.2 Just say wouldn’t it be wonderful if he succeeded Murrow and see what their reaction is. If you get any different reaction call me collect.

Wilkins: Very good, I’ll do that. I’m home today doing a little paperwork because Mrs. Wilkins is not well and I want to be with her. I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t in my office cause I’m loafing on the job.

President: Give her my regards. Tell her I hope it’s nothing Lady Bird gave her to eat that made her sick.

Wilkins: Not a chance of that. Thank you so much. I’ll try out Rowan, I’ll check on the African nations, and I’ll get you a list.

[Omitted here is discussion of issues other than foreign relations.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Roy Wilkins, Tape F64.06, Side A, PNO 5. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. President Johnson was considering naming Carl Rowan, then Ambassador to Finland, to succeed Edward R. Murrow as Director of the United States Information Agency. Murrow stepped down on January 20 and Rowan was appointed his successor on February 27.