61. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

[Omitted here is discussion of the resignation of Abba Schwartz and of Australian participation in the Vietnam War.]

President: Now, on Palmer, I talked to him this morning. I rather like him, but the Negroes are coming in and urging Fredericks. I don’t know whether—I guess Mennen Williams is for Fredericks.2

Rusk: I think he would be, yes. I don’t know whether he’s spread the word or who’s [inaudible].

[Page 137]

President: It may be somebody. [Roy] Wilkins is in, and others urging Fredericks.3 Palmer told me that he got one little problem with ’em, that he was talking to ’em about getting extra Negro employees and he said to ’em one day—he’s telling ’em about some fellow that he served with they called “chicken Charlie” and he’s a Negro—and they thought it was derisive and he didn’t intend for it to be, but some of ’em called him, some Negro educators. I just don’t want us to get hung with somebody they’d say is an “Uncle Tom” or something.

Rusk: Right.

President: I assume that a Negro for this post you would think is out?4

Rusk: I would think that a Negro in almost any other post would be preferable. In other words, an assistant secretary of some other area as a Negro.

President: Well, but we haven’t found any.

Rusk: Yeah, well—

President: We’ve been at it 3 years. And that’s the problem. If we had one, we might bring in somebody that’s real good if you could find somebody. They say Knox5 in the service is pretty good. They say this Williams6 you just sent to Ghana is pretty good, according to Crockett and according to this fellow that was over here this morning, Palmer, but they say that Williams had a little problem at the United Nations and was a little—chip on his shoulder. They’re competent but they might bring him in as an underling and let him train there for a year or two under somebody like Ray Hare. They might take his area. They all seem to think it’d be better that they have him in Africa. But we’re not [Page 138] going to turn him over Leddy’s job and we’re not going to turn him over Pan-American job and we’re not going to turn him over African job—so where are we going to put him? It would almost have to be kind of under—

Rusk: Uh huh, uh huh.

President: And we ought to find out where, so we can say to ’em that we’re training one like we’re training Thurgood Marshall over at the Solicitor General’s office for the Court. And we are training Weaver7 for the Cabinet office, and we’re training a man here to be assistant secretary. But they say, “Well, 5 years, you haven’t ever got one.”

Rusk: Well, I wonder if we can’t make that statement to them in terms of his being Ambassador in Ghana. This is a pretty key place right now. And, I must say, he’s been doing pretty well out there.


Rusk: Right.

President: Well, we are. But, the ambassadors are no longer in the—they’re good, but they feel like they are entitled to some assistant secretaries, too, you know.

Rusk: Uh huh.

President: And you got this damn fellow, Diggs, that’s on the African subcommittee in the House. He’s sending wires around.8 He says there are a dozen—let me give you an illustration of what he says is—there a dozen Negroes that are qualified for this like Nabrit;9 and I told him he’s at the United Nations but [5 seconds excised by the Johnson Library under the donor’s deed of gift]. Well, anyway, I gather that you think that Palmer is the man. Does George [Ball] feel that way?

Rusk: I think so. But, I must say, it’s pretty close. It’s between Palmer and Wayne Fredericks. Mrs. Bolton called me this morning, by the way, and urged that we give Wayne Fredericks serious thought. I think it’s a pretty close business between the two of them. [Page 139] Let me talk further to George about it to see whether he has a clear preference between the two. I know he was very strong on Palmer at one stage. I think we’d lose Wayne Fredericks if we didn’t make him this, give him this job. He’s been around for 5 years now, in effect, waiting for it. But let me talk further to George and call you back.

President: Well, I think we could put him in an embassy. I don’t much want to give it to him. It’s a question of whether to give it to Palmer or somebody else.

Rusk: Right

President [consulting Diggs’ telegram]: Here’s George Carter, they suggest, Near East Peace Corps; John Davis, now they say he’s good, American Society of African Culture; Dr. John Hope Franklin, University of Chicago; Robert Kitchen, member of the Senior Seminar in Foreign Policy; Dr. James Nabrit; Dr. James Robinson, they say he’s good, Director of Crossroads Africa.

Rusk: Oh, James Robinson, I think, would be almost impossible on this job. I know him from foundation days and he’s pretty far out.

President [reading selectively from Diggs’ telegram]: “George L-P Weaver, at Labor. There are advantages of having him just like John Gronouski as our Ambassador to Poland.10 There are others, of course, like Wayne Fredericks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who can carry out this responsibility with competence. But I do wish to emphasize my strong feeling a Negro should not be overlooked.”

Rusk: Uh huh, uh huh.

President: There are some of the suggestions. Now, if we could get it and get by with it, without too much hell, I would sure be inclined to name Palmer, because I like the cut of his jaw, I like his loyalty, I like his experience, I like what he did in that Congo operation. I don’t think he’s going to get us involved too deeply in—

Rusk: Right.

President: I think he’s got a caution that some of these other fellows haven’t got.

Rusk: That’s right.

President: Fredericks doesn’t have it, does he?

Rusk: Well, he doesn’t have quite as solid a sense of caution as Joe Palmer has, and he’s pretty far out on the African side, and there have [Page 140] been times when we’ve had to wrestle with him a bit about where the United States’ interests lies in some of these—11

President: That’s Fredericks?

Rusk: Yeah, that’s right.

President: Now what about Palmer?

Rusk: No, Palmer’s much more solid on that.

President: That’s what I would think. That’s the impression I have of the two.

Rusk: You see, one of our problems is that if we are going to have to spend a good deal of our time wrestling with the Africans, we don’t want to have to wrestle with our own assistant secretary at the same time and have the gossip going around town here that the assistant secretary wanted to do “X” and “Y” but the Secretary of State and the President wouldn’t let him, and if we get the wrong fellow in that job, that’s the kind of thing we run into.12

[Omitted here is discussion of unrelated matters.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a Telephone Conversation between the President and Rusk, Tape 66.12, Side A, PNO 4–5. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. On March 7 G. Mennen Williams announced that he was resigning as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. He stepped down March 23. The two leading contenders for the position, both white, were Joseph Palmer II, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Wayne Fredericks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. In a March 3 memorandum to the President, Watson reported that he had met with Crockett and Palmer (whom Crockett had heartily endorsed in an attached letter of February 28) and had found Palmer “to be a Bill Crockett type: honest, forthright, and a Johnson supporter.” Asked in the memorandum if he wanted Watson to move forward with Palmer’s appointment, the President checked yes. (Ibid., Office Files of John Macy, Box 674, African Country)
  3. In a telephone conversation with President Johnson that began at 1 p.m. on March 14, Rusk stated the following regarding the appointment of Palmer versus Fredericks: “I understand from some of your colleagues that a good many people have been weighing in. The only person who’s been in direct touch with me is Mrs. Bolton [Republican Representative Frances Bolton of Ohio], who, on the day that Mennen’s resignation was announced, called me and strongly urged Wayne Fredericks. But I understand the AFL has now come in, and a good many businessmen as well as the Negro community. I don’t have any information myself that Wayne has stirred this up, although if I had to guess I would suggest that maybe Mennen has been a little busy here in one or two places. But if you feel that there’d be some point in taking into account the Negro community and the AFL–CIO, it won’t be all that much of a mistake-in other words these are names that were very close to start with.” (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a Telephone Conversation between the President and Rusk, Tape F66.12, Side B, PNO 3)
  4. According to a memorandum of Ball’s telephone conversation with Crockett on March 7, during which they discussed the issue of Williams’ replacement, Crockett raised the question of “the pros and cons of a Negro for the area. Ball replied he was personally opposed to this and C said that Soapy was also.” (Ibid., Ball Papers, People & Positions III)
  5. Presumably Clinton E. Knox, appointed Ambassador to Dahomey on July 9, 1964.
  6. Franklin H. Williams, appointed Ambassador to Ghana on October 20, 1965.
  7. Robert Weaver, appointed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1966.
  8. Democratic Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr., from Michigan sent a telegram to the President on March 4 in which he said that Williams’ successor was “a matter of extreme concern to those of us who understand the importance of our policies toward that continent. I am disturbed, however, that there appears to prevail a school of thought within the State Department which has reservations about a Negro serving in that role. It would certainly be unfortunate if several Negroes, whose training, experience and understanding eminently qualify them to hold the aforementioned office, were excluded from serious consideration.” Diggs then listed some names for review. (Ibid., Office Files of John Macy, Box 694, Asst. Sec. for African Affairs)
  9. James M. Nabrit, Jr., Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations.
  10. This sentence in Diggs’ telegram actually reads as follows: “As a matter of fact, all other things being equal, an American Negro could offer an extra dimension of considerable utility, somewhat analogous to the advantages of having John Gronouski as our Ambassador to Poland.”
  11. In a memorandum to the President, March 8, Komer strongly backed Fredericks’ candidacy, stating that he regarded Fredericks “as a lot more toughminded” than Palmer. Moreover, Komer continued, “the answer to the charge that Fredericks is too ‘African’ is that this is the posture which is really in the best interests of the U.S. Though I have frequently had to badger Soapy and Fredericks to be tougher, I submit that their line is basically right, and that the proof of this pudding is in the eating—our African policy has been remarkably successful over the last five years for largely this reason.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Komer Memos, Vol. 2)
  12. The President appointed Palmer Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs on April 1, Fredericks remained as Deputy Assistant Secretary.