Former Senator Harris Wofford, one of the original Mad Men with Shriver in creating the Peace Corps, and later the first Country Director in Ethiopia (1962-64) will receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, that recognizes American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens. Wofford will be honored along with other recipients at a White House ceremony this Friday, February, 15.
Wofford’s first claim to fame came in 1941 as a teenager when he created the American Student World Federealist Movment. As Harris tells it on a wintry Saturday night early in ‘41, when he was 14-year-old in Scarsdale, New York, he was taking a bath, reading his Latin lesson, and listening to the radio. He got caught up listening to Clarence Streit, who was committed to the notion of an Atlantic union of democratic nations federated along lines similar to those that bound the American states.
Harris began to formulate a plan to organize young people across the country to support this idea. For a year he thought about it, then he jumped on his bike (listen, this is a true story) and bicycled throughout Scarsdale seeking to persuade his friends and other students at Scarsdale High to join with him. The Scarsdale group was officially formed in April, 1962. In this way, the Student Federalist idea was born in the United States.
Wofford would serve in the Army Air Corps in World War II, later he was deeply involved with Dr. Martin Luther King, and an adviser to President Kennedy on civil rights. It was Wofford’s idea for JFK to call King’s wife in the midst of the 1960 campaign when King was arrested. Many claim this gesture by Kennedy shifted the votes of African Americans to Kennedy. After starting the Peace Corps with Shriver and the other original Mad Men of the Agency, Wofford became President of the State University of New York and then Bryn Mawr College. Later he would represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate from 1991 to 1994 and served as the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service from 1995 to 2001.
We congratulate President of Obama for recognizing the great gifts Harris Wofford has given to the world.