PC/HQ Celebrates Black History Month—But Where’s Franklin Williams?

WASHINGTON– In honor of Black History Month, today the Peace Corps recognizes the important contributions African-American Volunteers and staff have made to the agency’s mission and promoting cross-cultural understanding around the globe with a Press Release.

The news release published today, February 11, 2019, honors African-American Volunteers and a number of noted staff members, including, of course, Carolyn R. Payton, the first female Director of Peace Corps, as well as the first African-American Director, and writes about a few other African-American staff members. (By the way, the Peace Corps Press Release  has a type with Carolyn’s first name under her photograph.)

However, the Press Release never mentions the most recognized African-Americans on the first Peace Corps staff, Franklin Williams, who began his ‘international’ career at the Peace Corps in 1961, and was at HQ as Chief of the Division of Private Organizations, and then head of the African Region. In 1965 LBJ appointed Williams 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.

It is very likely that Director Olsen and the current press office for the agency have any knowledge of Ambassador Williams. However, I would have thought that Director Olsen, who has made the Peace Corps her “career,” would at one time or the other recognized the name.

For example, when I was the Regional Manager of the New York Recruitment Office we established in 1999 the first Franklin H. Williams Award. In September of 2010 that Award was taken over by Peace Corps Headquarters. The announcement, by the Peace Corps Press Office, listed the years that the Award has been given in Williams’ name. Headquarters, however, did not say that the first  Franklin H. Williams award was held in the Regional Recruitment Office in New York City in 1999, and that the New York Office named it “The Franklin H. Williams Award.”  Nothing gets lost faster in the Peace Corps than its history as we see from today’s Press Release recognizing Black History Months and Volunteers and Staff who are African-American and never mentioning Franklin Williams.



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  • I received a Franklin H. Williams award on February 24, 1999 in New York City. It was signed by Mark Gerarn Director of Peace Corps and Charles Baquet III Deputy Director of Peace Corps. The inscription reads: In recognition of your continuing commitment to service and the pursuit of peace. Your contribution to African American scholarship reflects the highest ideals of the Peace Corps

  • I met Franklin Williams in 1963 when he came to Mekelle. We had about thirty volunteer teachers and health workers with access to a Jeep and a Land River. His final remarks were “this town has too many vehicles” as he boarded a helicopter. Both vehicles were later involved in accidents and were not replaced. We had to travel around the province like locals: On buses

  • I don’t know if the PC Press Release mentioned Charles R. Banquet, a PCV in Somalia who made a career in the Foreign Service ending as US Ambassador to Djibouti after serving in the US Embassies in Lebanon, Hong Kong, Paris and South Africa. He was also Deputy Director of PC off and on as Directors came and went and nominees awaited hearings and confirmation.

  • This discussion can’t be complete without mention of George Carter, the founding country director of the very first Ghana-1 Teachers project, and my own Ghana-3 Geology project a few months later. There was nobody quite like George, and none of the volunteers wanted to disappoint him. George, was very much a team player, not at all the self-assured ideologue (the Franklin Williams was), and counselled each newly-arriving group that success depended on THEIR collective efforts, and his job was to clear the way for them. George, the one-time civil rights worker, was as good as his word, and inspired those early Ghana volunteers. He remained an example to ME, for the rest of my career.

    As I’ve written before, we had our introduction to ideologue Williams when he appeared in Ghana as Ghana-1 was finishing up. He buttonholed one of the teachers, whom everyone considered exemplary, and demanded to know (and I still remember the query !) “How many Africans do you call your friend ??”. The volunteer simply replied that he didn’t know, and Williams dismissed him with the heartbreaking rebuke “You didn’t do your job ! !” Everyone was appalled, and afterward George Carter gathered all the departing teachers together and assured them that they had INDEED done their job — and more. We newly arriving geologists could only wonder — and admire George all the more.

    I often have wondered why George Carter hadn’t been tapped to be the national PC Director. Instead he would return to a career at the IBM Corporation, and retired from there. As for a future with the PC, may be that if you identify too closely with your troops, it makes remote politicians uneasy.

    SO, on this occasion, let me lift a glass to toast George Carter. One of the best, AfroAmerican (or other) staffers that the PC ever had. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment.

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