Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt

"Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt" first aired on WGBH in October, 1959. The monthly series was a forum for prominent leaders and decision makers to discuss current issues with Eleanor as mediator and host. One of its programs took as its subject the Peace Corps, begun under the Kennedy administration. Eleanor discussed the organization’s formation and the duties of public service with President Kennedy. Other prominent figures in the interview included Senator Hubert Humphrey, chairman of the Disarmament Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Professor Samuel Hays, Senteka Kajube of the University of East Africa, and R. Sergeant Shriver, director of the Peace Corps. "Prospects of Mankind" is both a rare assemblage of some of the most distinguished figures of the 20th century and an example of Eleanor Roosevelt's fervent interest in world affairs during the last years of her life.


Narrator: From Washington, D.C., National Educational Television presents the WGBH production, "Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt: Prospects of Mankind."

On the day President Kennedy issued the executive order creating a Peace Corps, Mrs. Roosevelt went to the White House to discuss it with him.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Mr. President, you're very kind indeed to give us these few words of introduction to the program, Prospects of Mankind, which is to be on the Peace Corps, which is one of your great interests. 

I would like to know how you originally thought of this. It seems to carry out your appeal for everyone to be of service, in your inaugural address, but how did you come to think of it, first?

President Kennedy: Well, of course, it had been discussed by a good many Americans, and this idea of particularly young Americans using their desire for service for the benefit of mankind. Congressman Royce in the House, Senator Humphrey and others, have been talking a good deal about it, and I felt during the fall that it should be a matter to which we should address ourselves.

We've now organized it. We hope by the end of this year to have between 500 and 1,000 young men and women -- though perhaps later on we can go to all ages -- in service around the world, in the service of peace. So that I'm very hopeful that this will do a good deal for other countries, but will also do something for our own people.

ER: This, of course, is a great opportunity, and this beginning is a pilot, I imagine, and hope that it will develop and that new things will appear as you work it out.

It seemed to me that it was the beginning of a broadening of our whole idea -- and perhaps I'm wrong in this -- but possibly that we have been thinking so much, in the past, of so many questions on a national scale only, and this was the beginning of thinking on an international scale.

JFK: Well, I agree. And I think the fact that this concept of service to our country or, really, in a broader way, to the cause of peace, the fact that it's gotten such an overwhelming response in schools and colleges across the country shows that there's a strong thread and a strong cord of service and a desire to be involved in a great effort, which really runs through our people. With all the emphasis on the life of ease, which we hear so much about in this country, I think the fact that this response has come forward is one of the most encouraging thing that I've seen.

These young men and women will not be paid any salary. They'll live among the people of the country to which they're accredited. They will work particularly on teaching, on health, malaria eradication and so on, and on agriculture, how they can improve the food production -- those three areas. And we'll send men and women who can serve and be a credit to this country and to the cause with which --

ER: -- probably on sanitation, too, wouldn't they?

JFK: Sanitation, that's correct.

ER: And possibility on helping people to use to better advantage the things that they have had as scientific discoveries make it possible, because I know that in certain areas of the world there are foods available that people do not choose, which might be of great be of great value to the people.

JFK: Well, I'm hopeful that this will be -- as I say, I think it can do a good deal abroad, but I think it can also do something here at home, in turning our attention to public service, national service, instead of following our own pursuits.

ER: It is a great opportunity also for our young people to learn about the world in which they live, but also, I like the idea that it may be extended to older people also. And I understand your hope is that other countries will come in and also do much of this work as we begin it.

JFK: That's right. The British have been doing some, on a limited scale: a group has been set up, a group of volunteers, and they have done remarkable work. I'm sure that there is through the whole free world community a great desire by younger men and women to be of service, and I hope that that great asset can be tapped.

So, this is a beginning. We want to use, as much as we can, private institutions, private universities, private organizations which have been in this work, so that we can make the most effective use of our talent.

ER: Yes. And will it be possible, for instance, for the UN to call upon our people for service, if they have projects?

JFK: That's right. We're going to attempt, at the beginning, to coöperate as closely with them as possible.

ER: Well, that would be a very valuable service, because it would remove cost, in a great many cases, which would be a very valuable thing.

And will they be able to work under experts in countries? For instance, where you are sending an expert in a certain field, you could send young people who are really getting their training still, couldn't you?

JFK: Yes. Though I think the people that we send abroad should have skills which could be sharpened, I think, by study, either in this country or in the country to which they're going, so that we can make the most effective use of our talent. It is expensive to send people abroad. It requires a good deal of effort on their part. We want to make sure that those that we send can bring a return on --

ER: Well, I was interested that, for instance, among the groups you mentioned, you mentioned labor, which seems to me that there is a great deal that could be offered by labor. For instance, in many countries they want the technicians -- electrician, a plumber, various things -- which perhaps you would not get out of many young people.

JFK: That's right. I think that after we've gotten started, we should attempt to cover every age group, because it's a desire to serve among -- and a capability among all Americans, and not just -- though I think at the beginning we'll probably have the biggest response from younger people, I hope that those with special skills who are older -- language skills as well as technical skills -- will find it possible to devote some of their lives.

ER: It is possible for them to have a period of orientation to learn a language, isn't it?

JFK: Well, I would feel that in order to do it more effectively, that there should be some skill in the language before they offer their services. We're only going to be able to send, really, relatively a limited number of people, considering the need, and therefore they should really have a skill, a talent, and a desire to serve.

ER: Still, there are not many people who know certain languages where the need it greatest, so I should think that there would have to be an effort made to give them at least some basic training in learning the language, and then they can acquire more on the job.

JFK: Well, I agree, some of the esoteric dialects would require -- it takes many months to really learn to be effective in a language, and if we -- we really have to balance off. We'll have to wait and see how many volunteers we get and what their skills are. But I would think that those that would certainly go at the beginning would be those who had some particular talent which they could bring to the program.

ER: And you think of it also as being a valuable -- as being valuable to us as Americans, in our gain and knowledge of the world, don't you?

JFK: That's right. They will all come back with the most valuable experience, and, as I say, one of the most encouraging facets of the entire concept of the Peace Corps has been the response. I think that we have really thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of people in this country who want a chance to be of service, to the country and to the causes with which we are associated. This gives them one area.

ER: Couldn't we also use some of these people in depressed areas in this country, to do a revitalizing of certain things in those areas that needed to be done?

JFK: One of the matters which we're now studying is how we could use Americans who desire to serve in our own country -- slum areas, in education retraining, and all the rest, and we are going -- we hope in the coming months to be able to decide how we can determine that program.

ER: It would seem to me that that would be part of this -- that would develop and that might be extremely useful, because there are people who can't go out of their own country. But I was interested in reading -- I can't remember if it was in your statement or not -- that you send, perhaps, eventually, even couples -- if they were both trained, if they were both able to do something.

JFK: That's right.

ER: And I have seen couples working together, for instance in Israel, in a children's village, and I think that this might be something which could be used in our own depressed areas very well -- if you could put a couple with certain kinds of training in, to help them rebuild and restart new industries or something that had to be done in the area, it might help us a great deal, as well as helping other countries.

JFK: Exactly. As a matter of fact, we are now attempting to see how we can use this reservoir of talent and desire here in our own country, as well as abroad. I just want to say that it's a pleasure to have participated in this discussion, which is going to be carried on, and also to welcome Mrs. Roosevelt back to the White House.

ER: Thank you very much, and I'm very grateful to you. Thank you, Mr. President.

JFK: Thank you.

Narrator: Now, in the studios of WTTG, in the nation's capital, Mrs. Roosevelt continues the discussion on the newly established Peace Corps with her special guests. Senator Hubert Humphrey, Democrat from Minnesota, is sponsoring legislation for the permanent and expanded Peace Corps. He is Chairman of the Disarmament Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Professor Samuel Hays is the author of The Peace Corps Task Force Report, requested by the president. He is a social scientist in the Department of Economics of The University of Michigan, and has served on several government missions to the Far East. Senteka Kajube is here from Macarary College, the University of East Africa, which will receive the first Peace Corps group of American teachers. He is presently at the University of Chicago, and is the Secretary of the Uganda Educational Association. R. Sergeant Shriver has been heading the Peace Corps effort for the White House. He is Chairman of the Chicago Board of Education, and was twice leader of Experiment in International Living Groups. Now, here is Mrs. Roosevelt.

ER: -- to welcome our audience again today, to what I think is a very important program, because the response to the Peace Corps has been phenomenal, and I'm very happy that this is so.

I think my first question will be to you, Mr. Shriver. You've just been designated the director of the Peace Corps, and I think the first thing that we all of us want to know is, what, in your mind, is the primary objective?

R. Sergeant Shriver: I think the primary objective, Mrs. Roosevelt, is to tap the skilled manpower of the United States and to put it at work in the service of foreign governments who request it. We don't want to go with Peace Corps volunteers to any country except a country that has invited us, and in that country we want to do what they want to have us do, not what we think ought to be done.

Therefore, I'd say that the first objective is to organize the skilled manpower that's available in this country, the dedicated people, and put them to work, internationally, for the benefit of all, and especially, of course, for the benefit of peace.

ER: Senator Humphrey, you will introduce the first legislation in this field. Could you give an answer to what you feel are the important objectives?

Hubert Humphrey: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, I think that Mr. Shriver has stated it rather concisely and meaningfully. I might just add that it seems to me that the Peace Corps might very well fortify many of the existing programs of public and private groups in depth, including even the activities of the United Nations, and surely many of our great charitable and philanthropic organizations.

Also, one of the aims of the Peace Corps is to really permit this great surge of goodwill that's so ever-present in the American community -- and I'm sure it's in other communities -- to manifest itself in some practical work and meaningful purpose.

I think that when you put together what you've said, Mr. Shriver, the reservoir of talent, plus this great desire of goodwill, that we are stating, somewhat, what is the major objective.

ER: Thank you. And how about you, Professor Hays? You must have some particular thing to offer.

Samuel Hays: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, I'm thinking primarily of the need in the other countries, where this need comes from, for the kind of people we're talking about. A modern society, a modern economy, is based upon educated people, trained people. It takes a long time to train and educate people.

What we can do is, on the one hand, help with the process of education and training, and on the other hand temporarily send in educated and trained people to fulfill these jobs while the necessarily long process of building up a corps of people who are adequately trained goes on. So I see this as being temporary and helping with the process of modernization, which all of these countries are trying to achieve.

ER: Well, Mr. Kajube, you're here today as the one representative from the countries who may really want to draw on this goodwill that we feel exists in the United States. Have you something you'd like to say about the objectives?

Senteka Kajube: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, this puts a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders, but I'll make a few comments. There's no doubt, at all, that in many of these so-called underdeveloped parts of the world the most serious bottleneck is the shortage of trained manpower, and this is one field in which the United States can contribute.

So, in principle, this idea, scheme, will be welcomed greatly by people in underdeveloped parts of the world. However, I should like to say it should not be a one-way street, in which the United States is giving without feeling that they too will be getting something in return. So I think it should be a mutually beneficial scheme in which the Americans would feel that they too are learning something about the rest of the world, and that the rest of the world will have something in return to contribute to the United States, in this scheme.

ER: That's a very important part of it, from my point of view. What would you like to talk about, Mr. Shriver? 


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