Racial Discrimination Within The United States Of America History Essay

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It is generally accepted that racial discrimination was an essential problem for the United States. Since Harry S. Truman [1] every government had concerned that the problem restricted the American ability to counter Soviet Russia in the Cold War. During the Kennedy presidency racial discrimination problem became more important issue than ever.

When Ghana declared its independence in 1957, it set an example for other African colonies then they started to proclaim their independence at a rapid pace and in 1960 seventeen new African nations gain their independence. Eisenhower [2] "appeared unwilling to alienate European allies who had once held African colonies, or southern congressmen at home, by seeming too supportive of the new African nations" [3] Comparing with Eisenhower it can be said that when Kennedy attached more importance to Africa issue. According to Dean Rusk, United States claimed that they had a policy which supported anti-colonialism so Africans expected evidence that "the leader of the Free World" would support sovereignty. [4] 

A secret panel about Africa policy of United States, which was organised after Kennedy became president, emphasised that Africa was the newest open the biggest manipulation area in the global rivalry between the Communist Bloc and non-communist world. That is why Africa was important for the United States and an effective action African policy should be followed by the United States administrations. [5] 

Loyalty of non-white communities was viewed as an essential indication on the international strength and prestige of the both United States and Soviet Union. As Krenn mentioned while discrimination was going on against non-white people they could not trust the United States and its democracy and freedom attempts. Department of State was not ready for facing racism as an international problem. [6] As a consequence the Kennedy administration was very apprehensive about racial problems in the United States were viewed by dignitaries of new African countries. Maximum effort was showed by Kennedy administration to establish good relationship with these countries and fed existing antipathy towards United States might cause solemn and long-term damage to relationship.

Soviet Russia and its media use race problems in the United States as a tool for communist propaganda and they dedicated a significant percent of their broadcasts to race problems and police violence towards African citizen and diplomats. For Kennedy administration this damaging publicity was frustrating so the reputation of United States should be amended.

While Kennedy government was seriously concerned about harmful propaganda, African diplomats, who represent newly independent African nations, could regard as the most important players of the game began to depart from their countries. A great deal of the diplomats arrived to the United States in the early 1960s. Twenty one African embassies had been opened in Washington D.C. and seven African countries had planned to do so when Kennedy administration had already started. But when they arrived the United States they would exposed to discrimination.


In 1960 major percent of Washington D.C. comprised by African Americans but the city was still segregated and they were kept out of the city's nicest parts and luxury apartments. By the virtue of the local protests in the early 1950s the legal desegregation of most restaurants, theatres, and public accommodations in the city had been achieved but informal segregation was still a problem.

When the African diplomats and their families came to the United States they faced several problems. When they came to the United States with great expectations and they accepted themselves as high ranking foreign diplomats who visit the United States, and they expected to be treated as other diplomats. They wanted to live in luxury and comfortable houses which are close to their embassies and join different social clubs which white diplomats joined. But reality was different and they would realise it in a short time. As it mentioned before informal segregation was still in progress and it included all non white people even diplomats. There was no exception so all black people from the poorest representative of the lower class to the most important person of the black professional class such as African diplomats were exposed to segregation.

The diplomats who took action in compliance with their high ranking position frequently were confronted with fury of some white people who thought African diplomats who went over the traditional limit and rule that black people had to obey. There is a great deal of examples for this treatment. For example one African diplomat was jailed by the police more than four hours because his official chauffeur was driving just five miles over the speed limit. Another diplomat was arrested for jaywalking across a crowded street he would choose among the crowded because police officers thought all of the black people breaking laws. [7] 

Diplomats and their officers were constantly affronted in restaurants and public places. For instance Metropolitan Club, which asked free admission to diplomats, did not want to serve African diplomats. They were also victim of the several discriminative behaviours. In 1960 a Ghanaian Embassy officer was beaten up on the Route 40 when he was travelling to Georgia to behold the electoral process. In 1961 the second Secretary of Ethiopian Embassy Tesfaya Rosa applied to police for receiving threatening phone calls but police officers ignored his application. His car tires were punctured and boulders were left in front of his exterior door. He called the police again but they refused to investigate the incident. [8] 

In 3 April 1961 the new incident came to light. Dr.William Fitzjohn, Charge d'Affairs of the African State of Sierra Leone, denied service at Howard Johnson's restaurant in Hagerstown, Md, on 9 March 1961.As Dr. Fitzjohn announced, he went to Howard Johnson's restaurant to eat something because he heard that Howard Johnson's restaurant serves non-white people. But when he and his chauffeur entered the restaurant although Dr. Fitzjohn showed her diplomatic identity cards the waitress refused serve to them. The State Department was concerned with this incident and after State Department officers heard the incident they apologized personally to Dr. Fitzjohn. Angier Biddle Duke, the Department's Chief of Protocol sent an apology letter to him. Fitzjohn was invited to the town by the mayor of Hagerstown, and finally President Kennedy met personally with Fitzjohn to apologize for the incidents. The president of the Howard Johnson restaurants chain also made amends to black people for the incident. [9] Another incident was occurred on June 26 1961, Adam Malick Sow was refused service a cup of coffee in a restaurant. He presented his complaints to Kennedy and Kennedy apologized to him. [10] 

In June 1961 Ghana Ambassador who were invited by American Bar Association to give a speech, was rejected a room in the Dallas Hilton Hotel on the ground of being non-white. By courtesy of Lyndon Johnson, the vice president of the United States, the Ambassador stayed at the hotel and a diplomatic crisis was prevented. The new independent African nations were members of the United States therefore their votes were important for both United States and Soviet Union in the United Nations General Assembly. That is why preventing a diplomatic crisis was essential for the United States. [11] 

Some arrangements were made for "the children of the diplomats who did not want to wish to attend private schools, it planned to facilitate their entry into three public experimental schools in the District (with) high academic standards. These schools admitted only exceptionally gifted students but the administration was prepared to circumvent their entrance criteria for the diplomat's children." [12] 

Administration officers of President Kennedy who worked with foreign visitors were worried about discrimination problem and according to them the consequences of discrimination might damage to the United States benefits and caused to some irrecoverable troubles. For instance one of the officers Robert Biren, a director in the agency for International Development, was worried about incidents and he reported that"if Africans brought by the agency to the United States encountered discrimination, they might become disillusioned." [13] When these dignitaries return their home they might change the choice of their governments between the "Free World" which was represented by the United States and Communism which was represented by Soviet Union.

One of the other officers Pedro Sanjuan who were the young director of the Special Protocol Service Section (SPSS) had similar worries and he pointed out the dangers. The embassies of the new independent countries had good relationship with United Nations delegation therefore bad behaviour against the diplomats not only damaged to external affairs with the host nation but could also impose on the power balance in the United Nations. Due to these reasons discrimination against African diplomats was considered as a more serious issue than the other incidents which other non white diplomats faced to. [14] 

One of the African diplomats E. M. Debrah, who is the counsellor of the Ghanaian embassy, criticize discrimination and listed a great number of examples racist attacks against African dignitaries. He notified that he was not sure how America honest about its freedom and democracy messages. He also claimed that, sometimes living in the United States became a nightmare for most of the African diplomats. When the SPSS research examined it can be said that claims of Debra proved by a governmental institution. [15] Research results showed that a great number of diplomats described their United States experiences as "humiliating" and themselves and their staff as "hurt"," bitter" and "cut off". Some of the diplomats who were filled with admiration to the United States reported that racial discrimination against them could change their point of view to the United States. The diplomats also affirmed that as a diplomat they tried to do their best to raise reputation of the United States but racial incidents and discrimination undermined their attempts. In 1961 African diplomats committee declared that if the Kennedy government not to pay any attention to their complaints they would leave the United States. This was a great opportunity for Soviet Russia. Nikita Khrushchev, chairman of the Council of Minister or premier, blamed United States for racial discrimination against African diplomats and supported them to leave United States. [16] 


In order to prevent discrimination and segregation towards to African diplomats a new "Public Affairs Unit" was created within the scope of the State Department's Office of Protocol in March 1961. Then the unit became the Special Protocol Service Section (SPSS). "The official mission of the SPSS was to "pay specific attention to the problems encountered by diplomats and visitors from the newly independent nations of Africa," especially their problems finding housing, travelling, and establishing social ties." [17] In other words, if one of African dignities or guests exposed to a discriminatory behaviour such as denying service in a restaurant / a petrol station or thrown out of a public place the SPSS intervene in the problem and try to solve it. After the SPSS should be informed about discriminatory behaviours against non-white diplomats and visitor, it would open and carry out investigation about grievances. The SPSS was also in cooperation with the Department of State and had an important role in inviting African diplomats to the United States.

According to Romano "While it is difficult to know who ordered the formal organization of the SPSS, it seems likely that much of the responsibility for the unit's creation lies with Pedro Sanjuan, the assistant to the chief of protocol who was director of the SPSS from its inception in 1961 until its demise in 1964." [18] In 1960 during the United States presidential elections Sanjuan became volunteer and took charge with Angier Biddle Duke, who was a Foreign Service officer, in J.F. Kennedy's election campaign. Sanjuan had also good relationship with attorney general Robert F. Kennedy. When he was charged in Office of Protocol his good relationship make contribution him to overcome difficulties.

None of the officers of Kennedy administration expected that the discrimination problems against foreign ambassadors and dignities would become such an important issue. When Sanjuan had started to work at the State Department, he did not have enough information about the issue. It can be said that his meeting with Milton Viorst was a turning point of Sanjuan reforms. Viorst was working as a reporter at Washington Post and writing many articles about discrimination incidents and problems of African diplomats so he had important files. He loaned his files to Sanjuan and after reading his files, Sanjuan decided that the poor reactions of the Eisenhower State Department to diplomat's grievances cause problems. Therefore he wanted to make radical reforms and concerned about civil right issue. Owing to discrimination problems, Sanjuan get chance to take action about civil right reforms. Sanjuan asked Angier Biddle Duke's allowance to concentrate on the issue and wanted Robert Kennedy's support and finally he became director of the SPSS in March.

Sanjuan wanted to use discrimination problems against non-white diplomats to start a large scale campaign against racial discrimination. He also knew that having good relationship with other government agencies was important for taking action. That is why Sanjuan worked co-ordinately with Frederick Dutton, the special assistant and link between government organizations and the SPSS, G. Mennen Williams, the African State Secretary, and Angier Biddle Duke who was the Chief of Protocol. Having a strong relationship with the most powerful attorney general Robert Kennedy, helped Sanjuan on his actions.


The most important and urgent problem that African diplomats and their families exposed to was finding suitable accommodation. Diplomats wanted to live in luxury houses which were close to their embassies but because of the illegal segregation against them, they could not find any house to live in. The region which African dignities wanted to live was informally white areas. Although ethnically restrictive agreements had been stated illegal by the Supreme Court, sales of a lot of estates to black people were relied on landlord's assent. Some apartment holders refuse to rent their properties to black people whether they were diplomats or not. [19] In 1961 at the State Department meeting, results of a survey were announced. The survey was conducted by Bureau of Social Science Research and it revealed that out of 211 apartments and only eight of them open to African diplomats in northwest Washington. [20] Some of the home owners gave consent to buy or let their properties to African diplomats ask much more money from them. But particularly supporter officers in the new embassies had little money to spend on their rent therefore they had to make a choice between living substandard housing or place in an all black areas. [21] Almost all of the diplomats reported that they faced humiliating behaviours when they were looking for housing. They were complaining to the State Department not to find suitable housing. They also reported that when they found a suitable apartment and arrive there to buy or rent it, the owner of the property said that the house had already let or sold. [22] Because of these kinds of residential segregation find suitable housing was almost impossible.

"Along with difficulties encountered in housing, Africans have been discriminated against in some downtown stores and restaurants. African men have been refused service in barbershops and some clothing stores have refused to let their wives try on dresses." [23] To solve these problems and to help African diplomats many suggestions were made. For instance, the State Department would buy an apartment to accommodate African diplomats and new social clubs and stores would be established for them. According to another suggestion if foreign diplomats have their own barber at their office they would not be refused service in barber shops. The idea of accommodating all African diplomats in the same area causes some arguments. The United States were criticized by Communist press and the State Department accused by segregating isolates African diplomats. Communist press claimed that, American propagators criticized communist countries for establishing "Potemkin villages" but main isolation was implemented by the United State Governments. "Chinese propaganda harshly criticized the State Department for seeking to establish vacation beaches for foreign diplomats since most beaches within driving distance of Washington, D.C., were segregated. The Soviet press accused the United States of trying to isolate the victims of discrimination rather than dealing with the discrimination itself." [24] 

Buying an apartment to house African diplomats was not a real solution and it also would damage to reputation of the United States. African diplomats also wanted to be treated as other diplomats so they did not want to be needed to show their diplomatic identity card to avoid discrimination or did not want to isolate themselves from other people. Because of these reasons Sanjuan never supported that idea. According to him more effective solutions should be put into practice.

In 1961 a meeting had been organized and representatives of both State Department Bureau of African Affairs and Washington Real Estate Board (WREB) representatives were invited. The chairman of the WREB recommended that, any African diplomats who were looking for apartment would directly contact with him then he would convey their applications to member estate agencies and when a suitable housing discovered the chairman would inform the diplomats. [25] State Department met WREB several times and several promises were given by the realtors. These promises and efforts were commented by the State Department and the White House as important development to fight against housing discrimination. [26] 

The association between the SPSS and Washington Real Estate Board continued but this solution was far from serving the purpose and they could just find five apartments for the diplomats. As Protocol Chief Angier Bidlle Duke said it was satisfying but there were lots of things to do. [27] In one of his speech Sanjuan said "We see no facile solution of the housing problem other than a new District ordinance, or a new interpretation of an existing law that will make it illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants because of their colour or religion." [28] As it can be understood from his speech Sanjuan believed that outlawing housing discrimination might be only solution for the problem for this purpose a law must be introduced but he could not convince other State officers.

A new action plan was organized to find housing for the diplomats. In terms of the plan a State Department Advisory Committee [29] would be formed and the landlords on the committee would open seven apartments for African diplomats and the landlords also would form a network to help African diplomats to find housing. Every week housing needs lists would sent to the committee and the committee members would find suitable apartments. But it is claimed that the committee refused to find housing some non-white diplomats so just five months after the committee established it is understood that the voluntary approaches did not solve the housing problem. In late 1961 Sanjuan reported that "Open occupancy offers the only definitive solution to our present and future difficulties." [30] G. Mennen, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, supported Sanjuan and said "Open housing is the only answer to solve this problem" [31] 

In September 1962, several arrangements were recommended by the Civil Rights Commission to provide desegregate housing. Furthermore the commission recommended to presidentially assigned District of Columbia Board of Commissioners to accept antidiscrimination verdicts. In the end after the some delaying attempts on 31st of December 1963 the District of Columbia Board of Commissioners accepted the fair housing arrangements. [32] 



Route 40 was a highway located between New York and Washington D.C. and most of the ambassadors and their staff had to drive when they were going to from their offices to United Nations headquarters. There were lots of restaurant beside the road but almost all of them refused to serve non-white people even they were diplomats. Many diplomats such as M. Leicht a Nigerian diplomat and his family, had been refused service and they thrown out of the restaurants on Route 40. [33] 

"American officials are aware of the effect in Africa, of such incidents as that in which a second secretary of the Nigerian Embassy was handed his breakfast in a bag when he asked to be served in a Charlottesville, Va., restaurant." [34] After intensive works to end the segregation in the restaurants a multifaceted campaign was organized. Due to the campaign in the first step Kennedy signed letters sent to restaurant owners and newspapers editors to persuade them to put an end to discrimination against non-white diplomats. Then government officers visited restaurant owners to talk them into serving blacks in their restaurants. Finally Maryland's newspaper editors were invited a lunch by the State Department and their opinion about the campaign were taken. [35] 

At the same time Sanjuan was lobbying in Maryland General Assembly for a public accommodations law which would ban discrimination in restaurants. In his speeches Sanjuan always emphasised that opposing to the public accommodation law was against benefits of the United States and it meant serving Communist purposes that is why the law should be legislated. Although Sanjuan's arguments about patriotism the Assembly and restaurant owners did not accept Sanjuan's offers and refused to work against segregation with the SPSS.

Despite lots of organizations did not want to support the campaign one of the civil right organizations the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were really interested in it. Even though the CORE did not collaborate with the SPSS, they supported Sanjuan's attempts and they tried to organize their own protests in parallel with the actions of the SPSS. In October 1961 the CORE proclaimed that they would stage sit-in in front of the restaurants to support Sanjuan and his public accommodation law bill during the meeting between Sanjuan and restaurant holders. CORE also planned to organize a broad participation sit-in at Route 40 restaurants on November 11, 1961. [36] The governor and Maryland Commission announced that the sit-in would retard desegregation attempts and it should be cancelled. [37] When 47 restaurants along Route 40 voluntarily CORE decided to cancel their sit-in.

At the end by the helps of Sanjuan efforts and CORE's demonstration threats in March 1963, the law which banned discrimination in hotels and restaurants in the cantons that located on the Route 40 was enacted by the General Assembly.


During his presidential election campaign in 1960 Kennedy promised to eradicate the housing desegregation if he became president. Therefore "the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 brought new hope to civil rights advocates and led to the first White Conference with American black leaders on U.S. Foreign policy." [38] By the virtue "Ink for Jack" campaign and demonstrations of civil right supporter Executive Order 11063 [39] was issued by Kennedy on 20 October 1962. [40] It was an important step for civil rights.

On 11 June 1963, Kennedy made a speech about civil rights and he mentioned some important points. "Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing…. not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have an equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves." [41] 

"Despite Kennedy's assassination in November of 1963, his proposal culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson just a few hours after House approval on July 2, 1964. The act outlawed segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, and hotels. It banned discriminatory practices in employment and ended segregation in public places such as swimming pools, libraries, and public schools." [42] 

Route 40 showed that it was not easy to convince legislatures to pass civil rights. On the other hand, Sanjuan made a successfully effort to overcome these problems therefore, State took serious action on domestic civil rights reform. [43] It is a fact that Rusk, who was secretary of State, also had an important role in success of Sanjuan. His testimony to 1963 Civil Rights Bill was one of the most important supports which he gave. Before his testimony there were two statements one of them was written by Ernest Lindley Sanjuan and it focused on African diplomats. The other one was written by Sanjuan and it focused on and defined segregation as a general problem for America rather than concerning African Diplomats. Rusk chose Sanjuan's statements and he gave his strong testimony to 1963 Civil Rights Bill.

After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Robert Kennedy promoted Sanjuan as the first assistant secretary of the interior territorial and international affairs. Sanjuan was also awarded the State's Departments Medal of Honor. It also should be considered that apart from the SPSS and State Department, civil rights protestors had an important role in accepting the 1964 Civil Rights Act. [44] 


Racial discrimination was always a problem in the United States but in late 1950s it became more important issue than ever. The Cold War between Soviet Union and the United States was still going on and when African countries started to declare their independence consecutively Africa became an attraction centre for both Soviet Union and United States. Both sides started to pay more attention to Africa and in a sense the Cold War moved to Africa so it became a Cold War battlefield. When Kennedy entered his office twenty one embassies had opened and seven African countries had planned to open their embassies. African diplomats had come to the United States but most of them became victims of discrimination and they faced several racial behaviours. There was something that should not be forgotten; the new independent African nations were members of the United States therefore their votes were important for both United States and Soviet Union in the United Nations General Assembly. That is why having good relationship with them was important to secure the power balance in the United Nations. For that purpose Kennedy Administration, particularly Sanjuan and Dean Rusk, made a great effort to protect African diplomats from discrimination and the SPSS was established. The major problem was the diplomat faced was finding a suitable houses near their embassies but because of the housing segregation it was almost impossible. Although at first the SPSS tried to solve the housing problem through voluntary attempts, but then they realised that voluntary attempts were far from solving the problem. That is why finally a legislative solution was implemented by the SPSS. At the end by the helps of Sanjuan efforts and demonstrations of civil right organizations Executive Order 11063 [45] was issued by Kennedy on 20 October 1962 [46] and then in March 1963, the law which banned discrimination in hotels and restaurants in the cantons that located on the Route 40 was enacted by the General Assembly. Before his assassination Kennedy made an endeavour for enacting Civil Rights Act but after his died the act signed in 1964 and came into force in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.