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Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy Delivered in the Senate on "Airlift Africa"

August 17, 1960

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I regard the statement made by the Senator from Pennsylvania as the most unfair, distorted, and malignant attack I have heard in 14 years in politics. I have received very recently a wire from Mr. Frank Montero, who heads the African-American Students Foundation, dated August 16 and received the 17th.

Senator Hugh Scott, of Pennsylvania, has announced in Washington earlier today that the State Department has offered $100,000 to the African-American Students Foundation, Inc., to airlift 250 east African students to the United States this September.

We appreciate Senator Scott's announcement of the State Department's belated offer in this matter.

This offer however was only made after the foundation, which had repeatedly requested help during the past 12 months and finally turned down late last month was successful in obtaining a grant of $100,000 from a private foundation. This private foundation has also agreed to provide continuing support for these students during their next 4 years in this country.

It is therefore regrettable that Senator Scott would attempt to reap political advantage from this nonpolitical educational program which originated out of the initiative and partnership of responsible east and central African leaders and private American citizens.

The fact is the State Department has repeatedly turned a cold shoulder to the airlift Africa program.

When an emergency situation developed and it appeared that the students would be unable to come to the United States to take advantage of the scholarships so generously offered by more than 200 American colleges and institutions, we turned to a number of private foundations and individuals for help and finally were successful in obtaining the funds.

On Monday of this week the State Department suddenly took interest in the project. Now that the State Department has given recognition to the urgent need to bring large numbers of African students to study in the United States, we hope these funds which they have allocated will be made immediately available to other African students on a continuing basis.

May I say Mr. Robinson arranged for Mr. Montero to see the Vice President in late June. The Vice President stated he was interested in the program, and I believe he was, and he referred Mr. Montero to Mr. Satterthwaite, who is Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. Mr. Satterthwaite, after considering the matter, wrote a letter to Mr. Montero, which I have here, in which he stated the State Department, because of other commitments, would not be able to participate in the airlift of these students.

While I was at Cape Cod I was called by Mr. Montero, who asked me if I would talk to Mr. Mboya. I did not know at that time what he wished to speak to me about. As a matter of fact, I have a copy of the letter from Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Robinson, in which he said:

Unfortunately, it does not appear possible to comply with either of the two proposals mentioned in your letter to the Vice President.

So the State Department felt it could not do that. In our conversation he asked if he could get help from private foundations to help them. They had private scholarships. They had raised $200,000, and they needed transportation. I said I did not know what could be done. I asked Mr. Shriver. I talked to my brother, who was a member of the foundation and also the president of the African foundation student exchange for the last 2 years, what could be done. Mr. Shriver talked to other foundations, the Phelps-Stokes, Ford, Marshall Field, and others. The foundations were committed to other programs and could not proceed. I then informed Mr. Montero that the Kennedy Foundation would do it with the understanding that we would not in any way connect the foundation with the administration of the project.

When Mr. Mboya was there, a press conference was held, and no mention was made of our foundation's participation. No mention was made of our foundation's participation until the first of the past week.

What happened was that after we saw one of the foundations and we had decided we could go ahead, some information was evidently given to somebody in the State Department from one of the members of the foundation.

Mr. Jim Shepley called up Mr. Montero and said he could arrange for $100,000 to be given to this program; and I have a memorandum from Mr. Frank Montero telling the events day by day.

On Wednesday, August 10, Mr. Montero and Mr. Scheinman came to Washington to meet with Mr. Shriver and his associates to further discuss and finally confirm the commitment. The meeting concluded in agreement that the commitment was essentially established, but that final details would be worked out and the matter completely settled in a later meeting to be held on August 15 here in Washington.

On Saturday, August 13, for the first time, Mr. Montero was advised by Mr. James Shepley, a representative of the Vice President's office, that the Vice President's office was again interested in the proposed airlift program. Mr. Shepley was informed by Mr. Montero that a source of private funds was available to underwrite the proposed airlift program. Mr. Shepley indicated that he had just become involved in this proposal and he hoped he could arrange such a definite offer of the cost of transportation being borne by the Government.

I wish to say in conclusion - I do not see any point in dragging this matter out - that the Kennedy Foundation went into this quite reluctantly. I am chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa. I think this is a most important program. We have a good many other commitments in the foundation. It was not a matter in which we sought to be involved. Nevertheless, 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.

I will say to the Senator that I think it is unfortunate that he has chosen this means of attacking me and the foundation, suggesting that we wish to spend the money improperly. There is nothing I can say to that.

I merely say to the Senator, whoever does this, it ought to be done. There are a good many other African students who wish to come here. If the $100,000 which Mr. Shepley was able to get from the State Department at this late date can be used beneficially to bring other students to the United States, I would be delighted to do it.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy Delivered in the Senate on "Airlift Africa" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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