PCV Aubrey Brown Shows Them How, Part 7

Nigerian PCV Aubrey Brown, who had had training and experience in non-violence resistance in the late fifties, led the Volunteers, and the Nigerian students, out of this confrontation over the postcard by the end of October, 1961.

The PCVs had continued to take some meals and sleep in the dormitories, but they were isolated and shunned by the Nigerian students. Then Aubrey told the Nigerian students in his dorm that he would not eat if they would not eat with him.

The Nigerians began to bring him dinner trays to his room but he refused to eat. And soon they invited him to join them at meals. Other Volunteers and students did the same. Slowly, a dialogue began between the students and the Volunteers, which was, as Murray recalls, “more valuable than if the incident had not taken place.”

Other Nigerians came to the help of the PCVs. The Nigerian-American Society, an organization of Nigerians trained in America, wrote letters to the editors of newspapers. One man, H.A. Oluwasanmi, who taught agronomy at the University of Ibadan and later was Chancellor the University of Ife, gave not only support to the Volunteers and Murray Frank, but his advice on how to understand the situation was, in Murray’s word, “invaluable.”

Richard Taiwo, an engineer in one of the Western Region ministries and a warm and wonderful man and supporter of the Peace Corps, praised the Volunteers and organized with others a party for all the PCVs at a very visible club in Ibadan, where there was plenty of Star beer and lessons in Highlife.

The Peace Corps in Nigeria also got help from Tai Solarin, principal of the Mayflower School, which he founded and named for our Mayflower, who came to the side of the Volunteers. If it wasn’t from these men, and the Nigerian-American group, Murray Franks now believes, “We might not have made it.”

In the aftermath of the incident, Murray would write, “PCVs remained calm and were not retaliatory with Nigerians who taunted them. These young men and women balanced individuality and group allegiance, knowing that the issues were not personal. They remained reasonably self-confident and able to listen and learn.”

The first real crisis of the Peace Corps and on-the-job training of what it meant to be a PCV had been averted and the infamous postcard turned into a moment of understanding and acceptance by all. The Kennedy Kids had shown their detractors in the United States that they weren’t kids. And as Murray Frank, who guided them successfully through all these first months in Africa, summed up years later, “I would hope that if any new PCVs go to Nigeria they will be as good as the Nigeria I Volunteers. They couldn’t be better.”

[Part 7]

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