Ethiopia’s First Peace Corps Staff
On October 13, 1961, Emperor Haile Selassie informed the Peace Corps that Ethiopia would be interested in inviting Volunteers to one of the few Africans nations which remained independent throughout the era of colonialism. Harold Johnson, operations officer for East Africa, was dispatched to Addis Ababa on November 5, 1961. Johnson remained until November 29 while Ethiopian officials explained to him that the nation wanted Volunteer teachers and plenty of them.
The request was impressive enough to send Harris Wofford to Addis Ababa twice in the following months, in January and April. Wofford, then adviser to the President on civil rights and Peace Corps matters, subsequently negotiated a program in Togo.
In Ethiopia, Harris quickly determined that the nation wanted to expand its secondary school
capacity without delay –at the start of the next school year in September 1962, if possible.
Key to this expansion would be the shipment to Ethiopia of about 300 Volunteers teachers, which would constitute the largest single export of Volunteers in the agency’s first three years. The Peace Corps agreed to undertake this formidable assignment. Recruitment machinery was set in motion. A contract was signed with Georgetown University to conduct training. An overseas staff was rounded up. The first staff member to move into position was Associate Representative William Canby, who arrived in Ethiopia on April 7 while Wofford was concluding the conversations in Addis Ababa.
Born in St. Paul, Canby went to Yale with Regional and Davenport Scholarships and was named tophi Beta Kappa before he graduated summa cum laude in 1955 with a degree in English. A Bar Association Scholarship assisted him through the University of Minnesota Law School. Military service sent him to McChord Air Force Base near Seattle as an assistant on the staff of the Judge Advocate. In July, 1958, on his return to civilian life, he became law clerk to
Supreme Court Associate Justice Charles Whittaker. One year later, he went into private practice as an attorney and then a partner with the St. Paul firm of Oppenheimer, Hodgson, Brown, Baer & Wolff. When he joined the Peace Corps administration in Ethiopia, Canby was posted north to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, where he opened a Peace Corps office for the 80-or-so Volunteers who would be serving in this former Italian colony that was federated with Ethiopia. The job of running things in Addis Ababa was at first assigned to Bascom Story as Acting Representative.
Part One, Ethiopia Staff
Research Document: Who’s Who in the Peace Corps Overseas Administration (1963)
The photographys are by Rowland Scherman, Paul Conklin and Jim Walls, first photographers for the agency.