40. Editorial Note

At 1 p.m. on July 9, 1965, President Johnson telephoned Senator Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to discuss the appointment of Robert W. Kitchen, Jr., an African-American, to replace Harry McPherson as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The President wanted McPherson, who was in the Oval Office during the telephone call, to join the White House staff. The conversation was recorded in the White House on a dictabelt but, due primarily to a problem with the dictabelt, some of Fulbright’s comments are unintelligible. The conversation began as follows:

President: (aside to McPherson) “Harry, get over there on the phone. Bill, this problem, I’ve got the man now that you want to specifications, but Harry tells me that you don’t want him, that you’ve got some question about him, and hell, I’m going to have to let you select him if you won’t take my man.”

Fulbright: “Who are you talking about?”

President: “I’m talking about the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Mr. Robert W. Kitchen, Jr. He was born in Brunswick, Georgia—”

Fulbright: “Oh yeah, he [McPherson] told me about it, yes.”

President (apparently reading from a dossier): “He received his A.B. in economics from Morehouse.”

Fulbright: “It occurred to me that—”

President (still reading): “He received his M.S. degree in business from Columbia. He got a Ph.[D.] degree at Columbia, an honorary Doctor of Laws from Chapman, California. He served in the Navy. Became Assistant to the Treasurer of Hampton Institute. He joined the Agency of International Development. He’s been the head of many task forces, including the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Africa, First International Conference on Adult Education in Rome, Task Groups on Administrative Procedures in Cairo, Task Group on Community Developments in Bangkok. He received the highest meritorious service award for his work. His duties as director of the international training—he teaches international training at Howard University. He is married, has a daughter age 13, and here’s what the analysis shows on him—that we’ve been thinking of him as Assistant Secretary of Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He’s been directing a program which in most respects is more complex and challenging as that of the educational and cultural operation in State. The comments we’ve received on his performance universally indicate that he does an outstanding job. He has a well-earned reputation for being an innovator and a doer. I’m [Page 86]personally acquainted with him and found him always to be imaginative and perceptive and diligent.”

President (speaking on his own rather than reading): “Now here’s what I can do. I can work with this fellow. And I don’t believe that folks like Rooney can turn down this Negro that’s able and can testify and do his job. Now Carl Rowan is going to leave the USIA, and go out and write, in journalism. And when he does, I want to announce this fellow as going in as Assistant Secretary, because the State Department just won’t let any Negroes work over there.”

Fulbright: “Well, Mr. President, you know whatever you want you can do—”

President: “No, I can’t do it here. I’m not going to do anything that you don’t want. But you wanted me to pick the best man I could, and Harry said, well, you said ’they’re gonna have two Negroes.’ Well, they’re not. Just going to have—not going to have any if we don’t name this fellow. And I’ll use him as my front and I’ll do the rest of the work, with your help.”

Fulbright: “Well, I don’t know—I know I would be accused of bigotry if I didn’t approve him.”

President: “No, you wouldn’t be accused of anything. Nobody would even know you’d been talked to. Now you and I don’t deal that way. If you don’t want the man, we just don’t want him. If you want the program, I think this is the best thing we can do. But whatever you want, you get, as far as I’m concerned.”

Fulbright: “Well, of course, that’s what bothers me is that, you know, very few of these countries that we have [unintelligible] are Negro countries. I don’t know how he would go down in the most important countries at all. A very delicate subject, but it’s very delicate here at home. What struck me the other day when he mentioned it was that both of our—USIA and the cultural programs and the visits [?]—after all we are not predominantly a colored nation.”

President: “Not at all. But the USIA man is leaving. And he has done a good job.”

Fulbright: “It never occurred to me that they were outstanding in the cultural field in this country. I mean, after all they’re not. The big [?] universities are not predominantly colored.”

President: “No, but Bill, we have 120 Ambassadors and we only have two Negroes. We have a dozen Assistant Secretaries of State. We have a dozen Assistant Secretaries.”

Fulbright: “I happen to think this is a hell of a lot more important job than anything the ambassadors do—”

President: “That’s right.”

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Fulbright: “—that deal with 48 countries.”

President: “But I’m talking now—we’ve got all the Assistant Secretaries and Under Secretaries and we don’t have one. And this fellow—”

Fulbright: “I wouldn’t object at all if you made him Secretary of State for that matter, but I have a rather personal interest in this post [unintelligible] in a bad way—”

President: “That’s right. And I think this is the best prepared, best equipped, best trained man we have. Because he’s dealing in the international field. He’s forgotten more about it than Harry ever knew. Hell, he’s [McPherson’s] a Tyler, Texas boy. But this fellow is dealing in this work now in all the country.”

The President again reviewed Kitchen’s credentials and the conversation continued.

President: “Now where in the hell you got a man equal? Harry, you tell him what you think about it. You can find anybody that even comes close to him, I’m willing to take him on merit.”

McPherson: “Senator, he’s already been running the AID program, and they’ve got more foreign students here than we do. I suppose he goes to 60 universities a year. I know he’s been to all 2 or 3 hundred of them—”

Fulbright: “Harry, the AID and the military programs are not the same [unintelligible] at all.”

McPherson: “No, but what I’m trying to indicate is that they’re the nearest approximations of them.” (Fulbright’s comments, made simultaneously, are unintelligible.)

Fulbright: “It’s not just handling a lot of people. He’s supposed to have some standing with the people we deal with. The main purpose of this is to have people with [unintelligible] and the personality to get along with the major foreign countries. If they don’t cooperate, well there’s no hope for us. We can’t just force a national program on them.”

McPherson: “I know that.”

Fulbright: “I don’t know the fellow. I’ll be very glad to meet him.”

After further conversation, Fulbright agreed to see Kitchen on July 12. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Senator Fulbright, Tape FMISC.04, Side B, PNO 1) The portions of the conversation printed here were prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.

In September 1966 the President appointed Charles Frankel to be Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. That same month, Kitchen became Agency for International Development Adviser to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City.