The September/October 2013 Foreign Affairs Magazine has a small notice that the Council on Foreign Relations is “seeking talented individuals for the Franklin Williams Internship.”
The announcement goes onto say that Ambassador Williams had a long career of public service, including serving at the American Ambassador to Ghana, as well as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lincoln University. He was also, they say, a Director of the Council on Foreign Relations. What it doesn’t say is that Franklin Williams began his ‘international’ career at the Peace Corps in 1961, and was at HQ with the first group of Mad Men, first as Chief of the Division of Private Organizations, and then head of the African Region. In 1965 LBJ appointed Williams to become the first black representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, from this position he would go onto serve for three years as Ambassador to Ghana.
While he was born and raised in New York, Williams came to the Peace Corps from California where he was the Assistant Attorney General. It was there that he set up California’s first Constitutional Rights Section. He took a leave from his position to help direct the National Committee to Register One Million New Negro Voters. And he also spoke for then presidential candidate John Kennedy at rallies throughout the nation before moving to Washington and joining the new Peace Corps in early 1961.
What is sad is that even the Foreign Affairs Magazine does not credit the Peace Corps with launching Williams foreign affairs career. The agency is never mentioned. As Williams said at the time, taking the job in D.C. with the Peace Corps, and moving off the ‘front lines’ of civil rights in the U.S. was become “the Peace Corps is doing something whereby formerly oppressed people can attain their place in the sun.”
Williams came to the Peace Corps at the urging of Harris Wofford who knew Williams from his own civil rights work. One story I heard, which I believe is true, is that Harris and his wife, Clare, went–as a white couple–to ‘check out’ houses for sale in Chevy Chase, Maryland, acting as surrogates home buyers for Shirley and Franklin Williams as owners in the fancy suburb would not sell their homes to blacks in the segregated Washington, D.C. area.
In the mid-90s, the New York Recruitment Office presented the first Franklin Williams Awards to minority RPCVs who joined the Peace Corps from the New York Region. A year later, HQ took over the New York’s initiative and made the Awards an agency wide presentation. The New York Recruiting Staff from that time were never credit for initiating this special awards that recognized Franklin Williams or the minority PCVs who joined the Peace Corps and then went onto have successful careers.
Also, the Peace Corps Website has Franklin Williams working with the Peace Corps from 1961-63. This information is incorrect. In September 1964 when I returned from Ethiopia and went to work in the old Division of Volunteer Support, Williams was still with the agency. I recall attending his farewell address to the staff held in the fifth floor conference room in the Maiatico Building, the first Peace Corps HQ building.