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Background Memorandum Prepared by Senator Kennedy's Office

August 01, 1960



On July 26 when Tom Mboya of Kenya visited Senator Kennedy at Hyannis Port, the State Department, despite intervention by Mr. Nixon, had with finality turned down a request to provide an airlift for over 200 African students who had received U.S. scholarships.

Senator Kennedy arranged for the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation, established in the memory of his brother who was killed in World War II, to finance the airlift when other foundations were not prepared to do so. In order to keep this project out of politics, it was provided that no public announcement be made of the grant.

After the Kennedy Foundation had decided to provide the money and just before the meeting was held to make final plans, Mr. James Shepley of Mr. Nixon's office, learning of the Kennedy Foundation action and intervening with the State Department on behalf of Mr. Nixon, achieved - in a matter of hours over one weekend and one Monday morning - a reversal of the State Department's long-established negative position. Mr. Shepley's role in this has now been confirmed by the State Department's answer to Senator Fulbright.

The African-American Students Foundation, weighing the Kennedy Foundation's interest in the whole project, the value of non-governmental financing, and the Government's general hostility to the project but for Mr. Shepley's last-minute efforts, decided not to reject the private foundation grant which had already been made. It urged the State Department to use the newly allotted funds to expand its own African scholarship program.

The next day, after Mr. Shepley and the State Department had been informed of the decision to go ahead with the Kennedy Foundation grant, Senator Scott, a member of Mr. Nixon's campaign board of strategy and of the Republican "truth squad," announced and hailed the State Department grant, making no mention of the prior Kennedy Foundation action. Then the following day Senator Scott alleged that since his announcement the Kennedy Foundation had "outbid" the U.S. Government and "attempted to pluck this project away from the U.S. Government" for "blatant political purposes."

Even after the facts had been disclosed by Senator Kennedy and the African-American Students Foundation, and were acknowledged by Mr. Nixon's office and by the State Department, Senator Scott went on nationwide TV to repeat and compound his wholly false charges.

The following memorandum gives a chronological account of the facts in detail. The key facts are supported by the accompanying documents.


Through the efforts of Tom Mboya of Kenya and the African-American Students Foundation, 81 students from Kenya were granted scholarships in the United States and a plane was chartered to bring them here.

Repeatedly the State Department was asked to help finance this project and repeatedly it turned the project down. Copies of the correspondence on this are available from the files of Congressman Diggs. The money was raised by a direct appeal to the public.


In response to letters from Mrs. Ralph Bunche, a director of the African-American Students Foundation (AASF), some 230 scholarships valued at over $1 million were offered for African students by Class I accredited colleges in the United States.

This 1960 program included not only Kenya as in 1959, but also Uganda, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland. About 230 students were selected, and money was raised in Africa from Africans to provide about $1,000 per student for living expenses in the United States.

A. State Department's decision not to finance project

Repeatedly, beginning in November 1959, the State Department was asked to finance the air transportation of this, the largest student travel scholarship program ever to be undertaken in Africa. The chronology of these requests and the State Department's negative responses follows, with full documentation available:

(1) On November 18, 1959, Mr. Scheinman, the vice president of the African-American Students Foundation (AASF), wrote to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. J. C. Satterthwaite, outlining the program for the 1960 airlift of some 250 students from central and east Africa, and asking for transportation assistance.

(2) On December 10, Assistant Secretary of State Satterthwaite replied saying that he regretted "to have to respond * * * in the negative," and adding that "Perhaps you will wish to send a copy of this letter to Mr. Mboya so that he will not have any unfounded expectations regarding this matter."

(3) On January 15, 1960, Mr. Scheinman wrote to Mr. Satterthwaite asking for reconsideration. No reply was received by AASF.

(4) On June 9, 1960, Mr. Jackie Robinson, on AASF letterhead, wrote to Vice President Nixon asking for his assistance in the matter.

(5) On June 23, Mr. Nixon replied that he was urging the State Department to give the project serious consideration.

(6) On July 7, Assistant Secretary of State Satterthwaite, wrote AASF taking note of Mr. Nixon's interest but advising that it would not be possible for the U.S. Government to finance the air transportation.

(7) On July 13, in an effort to persuade the Department to change its negative decision, Mr. Frank Montero, the president of AASF and Mr. Scheinman, met in Washington with several State Department officials, including Mr. C. Kenneth Snyder, Program Officer for Africa, Policy and Plans Staff, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. After about a 3-hour conference, the Department officers had not changed their position and in fact had given additional reasons why the Department could not be involved in the project. They said the project had gone up to the "top" and been finally rejected.

(8) On July 21, Mr. Mboya telephoned from Africa to express his alarm about the failures to secure transportation for the students. It was decided he would fly to the United States to make a direct appeal.

(9) On July 23, telegrams were sent to all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bv AASF telling of Mr. Mboya's trip and asking for appointments for him.

(10) On July 25, Mr. Mboya attended a conference called by the Phelps-Stokes Fund in New York of some 50 representatives of organizations concerned with higher education in east and central Africa. The African airlift program was discussed. Mr. Snyder represented the State Department. Also present were representatives of the Institute of International Education, the Carnegie Foundation, the Foreign Policy Association, the African-American Institute, the American Society of African Culture, the American Council on Education, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Mr. Snyder explained why the State Department was not in a position to support the project: It could not operate on a crash basis, and was limited in its work in colonial territories such as east Africa.

(11) On July 27, Senator Wiley, in response to the telegram requesting an appointment for Mr. Mboya, wrote to Mr. Montero as follows:

I have your telegram requesting an appointment for the purpose of discussing the airlift of 250 African students to the United States this coming September.

After consulting with our State Department, which is not unaware of your problem, I have been advised it does not look with favor on an airlift of foreign students at Government expense. You can readily understand that if an exception were made in one instance, a precedent would be established which would not only be difficult of control but would subject the United States to criticism at home, and abroad by those not so favored. Therefore, much as I approve of encouraging exchange of foreign students, I cannot be of assistance to the Foundation in this instance.

B. The Kennedy Foundation's support of the project

(1) In response to the telegram about Mr. Mboya's visit, Senator Kennedy invited him to come to Hyannis Port. They met on July 26 for a long discussion of the African situation. Mr. Mboya described the great opportunity of filling over 200 scholarships for Africans which was about to be lost because of lack of transportation. He asked Senator Kennedy, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, to intercede with the State Department. Senator Kennedy said that if Mr. Nixon had already tried and failed, he could do little there. He suggested, however, that the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation might be able to help.

After consulting with the executive director of the Kennedy Foundation, Sargent Shriver, Jr., on the telephone, Senator Kennedy informed Mr. Mboya that the Kennedy Foundation would contribute at least $5,000 and would take the initiative in securing the rest of the funds needed from other foundations, perhaps on a matching basis with the Kennedy Foundation.

(2) On July 27 and 28, and later, Mr. Shriver called a number of other private foundations, including Carnegie, Ford, Phelps-Stokes, Rockefeller, the Institute of International Education, and the Foundation for All-Africa (of which Mr. Robert Kennedy is president). While some of the foundations were interested, none was prepared to move immediately.

(3) On July 29, upon learning that no progress had been made in securing other financing, Senator Kennedy asked that Mr. Shriver be advised that in his opinion, as a trustee of the Kennedy Foundation, the whole project should be financed by the Kennedy Foundation, so that the planes could be chartered and the students could arrive here in time to take up their scholarships in September. Senator Kennedy said that a condition of the grant should be that there be no announcement of it, in order to keep the project out of politics.

(4) On August 5, 1960, Mr. Shriver wrote to Mr. Joseph P. Kennedy as follows:

Last week, Jack met with Tom Mboya * * * up at the cape. Mboya told Jack that there was a million dollars worth of scholarships awaiting students of Kenya in the United States, but that Mboya did not have the money to transport these students to the United States. Jack offered to help in a modest way and asked me to find out if other foundations would be willing to join our foundation in providing money for the transportation of these Kenya students to this country.

While I was in the process of contacting the foundations (none of which were flexible enough to move quickly on this urgent matter), Jack decided he would like us to go ahead with the project on our own.

Approximately $90,000 is required for the transportation since 250 to 350 students are involved, and I am recommending to Jack that another $10,000 be appropriated so that we may have the expert services of the Institute for International Education or the Phelps-Stokes Fund to select the students and make sure they are assigned to institutions in the United States where they are capable of doing a good job.

Over this weekend I will be talking to Jack and presumably getting his final OK. Jack's theory is that we would have no publicity about this matter.

(5) On August 10, in Washington, D.C., the AASF officers, Montero and Scheinman, were informed that the Kennedy Foundation would assure the transportation costs of the student airlift. They were also informed that a condition of the grant was that there be no public announcement about it. They agreed to this. While details remained to be worked out, Messrs. Montero and Scheinman left with the assurance that the commitment was made.

(6) On the same day, August 10, Mr. Shriver invited Congressman Diggs to serve on an advisory committee, which the Kennedy Foundation intended to establish to see that the best possible arrangements were made for the students both in their travel and in their studies here.

(7) On August 12, Mr. Shriver called a meeting for Monday, August 15, at 2:30 p.m. at which final details would be worked out and the advisory committee established, and to which the AASF president, Mr. Montero, would be invited, along with representatives of the Institute of International Education, the African-American Institute, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, the Foundation for All-Africa, and the Ford Foundation. At the time Mr. Montero received this invitation on Saturday morning, and agreed to be in Washington Monday to complete the plans, he says that he had received no indication that the State Department was considering reversing itself.

C. Mr. Shepley's role

(1) On Saturday, August 13, after the Monday plans had been agreed upon, Mr. Jackie Robinson called Montero to say that Mr. James Shepley of Mr. Nixon's office wanted to talk to him. When Montero then called Shepley, Shepley expressed his interest in getting the State Department to support the project. Either in this call or in a call the following day, or in both calls, and Montero believes it was in both, Shepley stated that he knew that the Kennedy Foundation had offered up to $100,000 to finance the airlift. Montero says he neither confirmed nor denied this because of his agreement that there be no publicity, but he did tell Shepley that a private foundation was prepared to finance the airlift. Shepley urged him to let him try to get an offer from the Government and said he would call back the next day. According to Montero, Jackie Robinson, as a member of the board of the AASF, was informed of the Kennedy Foundation decision; Robinson denies he knew any more than that the Kennedy Foundation would give $5,000 and seek to raise the rest from other foundations. Senator Scott's account is that in this Saturday telephone talk Montero related to Shepley "that during the period immediately after the Democratic National Convention the Kennedy people had offered to make $100,000 available for Airlift African, 1960." (Cong. Rec. Aug.17, p.15442.) This is in accord with the Washington Star's article (Aug.14) in which Mr. Nixon's press secretary, Herbert Klein, is quoted as saying that Shepley found out that the Kennedy Foundation was involved on Sunday "when Mr. Montero called him to say the financing had been guaranteed." However he found out, it appears evident that at least by Saturday Mr. Shepley knew of the Kennedy Foundation grant.

(2) On Saturday, August 14, despite his knowledge that the airlift financing had already been arranged privately, Shepley called Montero to say that although he still had nothing firm to offer he hoped the Department would reverse itself before Montero's meeting with the Kennedy Foundation representative on Monday. He said he was taking the issue up with Undersecretary of State Dillon. He made arrangements to reach Montero on Monday before the meeting. Later the same day, Montero and Jackie Robinson talked about the situation and, according to Montero, agreed that it didn't matter who financed the airlift if the students got here in time for school.

(3) On Monday, August 15, Montero and Shepley talked on the phone several times, with Shepley each time saying that he hoped within a matter of minutes to get an affirmative answer from the State Department. During the noon period Shepley called to say that he would speak with Dillon as soon as Dillon finished testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A few minutes later, Shepley called to say that he had been authorized to make a definite offer that the Government would provide transportation costs up to $100,000 for the airlift. He asked that Montero contact Mr. Robert Thayer, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, for further details. Montero said he would talk with Thayer but that there was already, as Shepley knew, a prior commitment agreed upon with the Kennedy Foundation.

Mr. Shriver, as executive director of the Kennedy Foundation, told Montero and Scheinman that they were entirely free to accept the Government's offer. The latter decided that in view of the Government's reluctance about the whole project, the preference of many Africans for nongovernmental support, and the Kennedy Foundation's concern for the interest of the students while in this country, the AASF should not reject the Kennedy Foundation grant. Rather, it should urge the Government to apply the proffered $100,000 to an expansion of its own scholarship program for east and central Africa. (Last year the Government's academic scholarship programs for all Africa amounted to 142 students.)

At the 2:30 p.m. meeting the following persons were present in addition to Shriver, Montero, and Scheinman: Dr. Fred Patterson, of the Phelps-Stokes Fund; Mr. Gordon Hagberg of the African-American Institute; the Reverend Gordon H. Fournier, executive vice president of the Foundation for All-Africa; and Mr. Albert Sims of the Institute of International Education. Mr. Shriver explained that the Kennedy Foundation had decided to finance the airlift and hoped they and Congressman Diggs would serve as an advisory committee to the project. It was agreed that several members of the advisory committee would shortly go to Africa to study the procedures used in selecting students and to accompany the students to this country in early September.

Later Montero called Shepley and Thayer to inform them of the decision. Montero says that Shepley protested their action in "turning down the U.S. Government" and that he implied that efforts might be made by his side to suggest in the press that this was a politically motivated act by Senator Kennedy.

D. Senator Scott's role

(1) The next day, Tuesday, August 16, Senator Scott announced that the State Department had granted $100,000 to finance the African student's airlift. Senator Scott is a member of Mr. Nixon's campaign board of strategy. He has stated that although Mr. Shepley knew of the Kennedy Foundation grant on Saturday, the 13th, and the Department of State knew at least by Monday, the 15th, he (Senator Scott) did not know of it when he made this announcement on Tuesday. Who gave him the information about the State Department's offer or authorized him to announce it, or why such person did not tell him of the Kennedy Foundation's prior grant, is not known. One possible source is suggested by the Senator's references in the text of his release to Jackie Robinson, a strong supporter of Mr. Nixon.

(2) Early on the same day, August 16, Montero informed Jackie Robinson of what had happened Monday and of the decision to go ahead with the Kennedy grant. Robinson read Montero the draft of a column he had written for publication in the New York Post on Wednesday, August 17. The column essentially followed the line of Senator Scott's announcement, mentioning only the State Department's offer and not the Kennedy Foundation grant. It read in part:

Good news is all too rare these days, but on Monday I received a call from Washington which added up to just that. Jim Shepley, an aid to Vice President Nixon, called to tell me the State Department has decided to pick up the tab for the three planeloads of African students which the African-American Students Foundation is bringing over this year to study at American universities.

* * * * * Incidentally, it is no accident that an aid of the Vice President was the one to call me about this. When I conferred with Mr. Nixon in Washington several weeks ago, one of the points we discussed was this project.

***Shepley was assigned to follow up on the matter, and Monday's phone call was the happy result.

* * * And I congratulate, President Nixon, Under Secretary Dillon and Jim Shepley for the vital roles they played in bringing it about.

After hearing this read, Montero told Robinson that this was unfair and inaccurate reporting. He says Robinson told him he was going to print it anyway.

(3) After Senator Scott's announcement Montero and Scheinman sent a telegram to Congressman Diggs stating that the State Department's "belated offer" was "only made after the foundation, which had repeatedly requested help during the past 12 months and was finally turned down late last month, was successful in obtaining a grant of $100,000 from a private foundation. * * * The fact is the State Department has repeatedly turned a cold shoulder to the airlift-Africa program." They suggested that the funds allocated by the Government should "be made immediately available to other African students on a continuing basis." As agreed upon with Senator Kennedy and Mr. Shriver, they did not identify the Kennedy Foundation.

Congressman Diggs released this telegram to the press with an accusation that the State Department was playing politics by announcing a grant which it knew had been made too late. The Department "showed interest in the matter," said Congressman Diggs, who had tried diligently since 1959 to persuade the State Department to act, "only when their inaction was about to prove embarrassing to the Republican Party."

(4) On Wednesday, August 17, Senator Scott on the Senate floor stated that "since" the time (the previous day) when he had been "privileged" to announce the State Department grant (the day after it had already been turned down), he had "been informed that the long arm of the family of the junior Senator from Massachusetts has reached out and attempted to pluck this project away from the U.S. Government." He said he was "surprised" at the decision of the African-American Students Foundation but he could "understand the pressures brought by the Kennedy people and their anxiety to take over the functions of the Government in advance of an election." He said he was concerned "at the apparent misuse of tax-exempt foundation money for blatant political purposes." He asked why "the Kennedy people" were so anxious to commit themselves to this expenditure "just 1 day after learning of the action of the Department of State."

(5) In reply to Senator Scott on the Senate floor, August 17, Senator Kennedy outlined the facts in this memorandum, calling Senator Scott's statement "the most unfair, distorted, and malignant attack I have heard in 14 years in politics." He said in conclusion:

* * * the Kennedy Foundation went into this quite reluctantly. I am chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa. I think this is a most important program. * * * Mr. Mboya came to see us and asked for help, when none of the other foundations could give it, when the Federal Government had turned it down quite precisely. We felt something ought to be done. To waste 250 scholarships in this country, to waste $200,000 these people had raised, to disappoint 250 students who hoped to come to this country, it certainly seemed to me, would be most unfortunate and so we went ahead.

He urged the State Department at this late date to use the funds "to bring other students to the United States."

(6) On August 18, Senator Fulbright addressed 13 questions to Secretary of State Herter on the role of Mr. Shepley and the Department in this whole matter, asking for answers by Monday, August 22. To the press Senator Fulbright stated that:

If the facts are like they appear to be, I think it is an outrageous distortion of the facts on the part of Senator Scott. If it is true that the State Department was pressured into allocating funds, it was an unacceptable interference with the orderly conduct of our foreign policy by the State Department for partisan, political purposes.

(7) Later on August 18, Lincoln White, Director of the State Department's Office of News, stated that the Department had turned down the African airlift when it was originally proposed early in July because it was confined only to Kenya, because the specific request was for free transportation through MATS, because it felt the project should be conducted through the Institute of International Education, and because there was inadequate provision for the students' expenses in the United States. Mr. White stated that the project had been finally approved after assurances were given meeting all these Department objections. He stated that the Department was informed on Monday that its offer was not accepted, because the airlift had already received private financing.

(8) On August 19, Vice President Scheinman of AASF wired Senator Fulbright that the Department's explanation that the decision was reversed "because we finally met requirements laid down by the Department is patently incorrect because the Department never laid down any requirements at all." Specifically, Scheinman said that the 1960 airlift was never designed just for Kenya alone and that the other countries involved were listed in his letter to Assistant Secretary Satterthwaite on January 15, 1960. Nor was the request ever confined to Air Force transport. Nor had the other alleged objections been met, he said, unless the Department was counting on the support of the Kennedy Foundation for expenses of the students in the United States. Mr. Lincoln White conceded that he had been in error as to the original proposal for 1960 being limited to Kenya. But he insisted that the other conditions had been met, although he would not disclose the source of any such assurances.

(9) On August 19, Jackie Robinson published a second column on the matter, stating: "I don't mind admitting it: I was wrong." He said he would not dispute the account by the African-American Students Foundation that the Kennedy Foundation had already committed itself to support of the full project by the time the State Department offer was made. He stated that "as late as the time my column was written on Tuesday I was not told the State Department offer had been rejected." He did not add that after writing the column but before it went to press Montero had told him this and the other relevant facts refuting the main theme of that column.

(10) On Sunday, August 21, on ABC's television "College News Conference," Senator Scott was asked whether in view of the fact that the Kennedy Foundation had kept its grant quiet until he brought it to the forefront, wasn't he the one who was making it a a political issue? Despite all of the above facts and the State Department's acknowledgment of them, Senator Scott replied:

Well, I wouldn't think so, since the foundation did not move in this matter until after they had learned of the decision of the State Department last Saturday to make these funds available. * * * so the truth is that the Kennedy Foundation offered nothing until they had heard of the State Department offer.

Instead of conceding his error, as Jackie Robinson finally did, Senator Scott repeated as a fact that "the Kennedy people had no interest in this whatever until Monday of this week."

Saying "we are going to have an awful lot of questions of abuse of money in this campaign and this is one of them * * *." Senator Scott went on to make further charges such as "millions more" of Kennedy money "will be used if means can be found to evade the election laws."


A. As to Senator Scott's role

(1) Did Senator Scott know on Tuesday when he announced and hailed the State Department's grant what the State Department and Mr. Shepley of Mr. Nixon's office knew at least by Monday: that the Kennedy Foundation had already granted the necessary funds and that State Department funds were not needed for this project?

(2) Who informed Senator Scott of the State Department grant and who authorized him to announce it?

(3) Did such person or persons not know that the Department's offer was turned down because the Kennedy Foundation had already granted the funds?

(4) If this person knew why didn't he tell Senator Scott? If he didn't know, why didn't he?

(5) Did James Shepley or anyone else in Mr. Nixon's office know that Senator Scott was planning to make his statement on Tuesday announcing the State Department grant?

(6) If he did, why didn't he set Senator Scott straight on the facts before this Tuesday statement?

(7) In any case, why didn't Shepley or someone else set Senator Scott straight on the facts at least before the Senator's Wednesday statement?

(8) Why did Senator Scott, after Senator Kennedy and the African-American Students Foundation had given the facts in detail and after the confession of error by both Jackie Robinson and the State Department, repeat and compound his inaccurate charges over nationwide TV?

B. As to Mr. Shepley's role

(1) When did Mr. Shepley first hear of the possibility that Senator Kennedy or the Kennedy Foundation would support, in full or in part, the African airlift?

(2) From whom did he hear this?

(3) When did he hear that the Kennedy Foundation was going to finance the whole airlift?

(4) From whom did he hear this?

C. As to Mr. Nixon's role

(1) Did Mr. Nixon or anyone in his office know in general what Senator Scott intended to say in advance on Tuesday or Wednesday or on the Sunday TV show?

(2) If so, is delegation of political dirty work to be Mr. Nixon's campaign strategy?

(3) If not, does Mr. Nixon approve and condone the course of action in this matter taken by Senator Scott?

(4) Does Mr. Nixon want on his board of campaign strategy or on his party's self-styled "truth squad" a man who has chosen this low road of political hit and run, and who has shown such a reckless disregard for the facts?

John F. Kennedy, Background Memorandum Prepared by Senator Kennedy's Office Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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