Ronald Reagan made racist remarks about African delegates to the United Nations, calling them “monkeys” and saying they were still “uncomfortable wearing shoes”, newly released audio recordings have revealed. Reagan, the actor turned politician who was a popular two-term president, made the comments in a phone call with the disgraced former president Richard Nixon as the two discussed a 1971 vote by the UN to recognize China, instead of the US ally Taiwan. At the time of the call, Nixon was still president and Reagan was governor of California, both the BBC and the British Guardian reported last month.
The two were discussing the Tanzanian delegation’s reaction to the vote after delegates danced in the chamber. “To watch that thing on television, as I did, to see those, those monkeys from those African countries – damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan tells Nixon, who erupts in laughter. The recording was first published in the Atlantic magazine in an article written by Tim Naftali, who directed the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum from 2007 to 2011.
The news comes as the current occupant of the Oval Office, Donald Trump, is engulfed in controversy after making racist remarks about the city of Baltimore and a black congressman whose district partially covers the city. Trump – who frequently uses racist or racially charged language – called Baltimore a “rat and rodent-infested mess” and the “worst in the USA”. In the Atlantic, Naftali writes that the conversation between the two men had been originally released in 2000 with the racist portion removed “to protect Reagan’s privacy”.
After Reagan’s death in 2004, the privacy concerns were eliminated, and last year Naftali requested the full release of the recordings. They were released earlier this month by National Archives, which made them available online. Reagan, a conservative icon, was a strident supporter of Taiwan and “despised” the UN and wanted the US to withdraw from the international organization immediately, according to Naftali. Other recordings show that Nixon paraphrased Reagan’s comments as a way of expressing the same opinion without repeating the exact slur.
In a subsequent call to his secretary of state, William Rogers, Nixon recounts his conversation with Reagan about the UN delegation from African nations. “He saw these, uh, he said these, uh … these cannibals on television last night, and he says, ‘Christ, they weren’t even wearing shoes, and here the United States is going to submit its fate to that,’ and so forth and so on,” Nixon says.
“The president wanted his patrician secretary of state to understand that Reagan spoke for racist Americans, and they needed to be listened to,” Naftali writes in the Atlantic. The former US President Ronald Reagan described African delegates to the UN as “monkeys”, in newly unearthed tapes published by a US magazine, according to widely circulated reports, he made the comment in a 1971 telephone call with then-President Richard Nixon, as previously mentioned. Mr. Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, was angered that African delegates at the UN sided against the US in a vote. Members of the Tanzanian delegation started dancing after the UN voted to recognize China and expel Taiwan. Mr. Reagan, who was a supporter of Taiwan, called the president the following day to express his apparent frustration.
He said: “To see those… monkeys from those African countries – damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Mr. Nixon, who quit as president in 1974, can then be heard laughing. The recording was unearthed by Tim Naftali, a clinical associate professor of history at New York University, who directed the Nixon Presidential Library from 2007 until 2011.
He published his findings in The Atlantic and wrote that the racist exchange was removed from the original tapes for privacy reasons. The tapes were released by the National Archives in 2000 while Mr. Reagan was still alive. But he said the recordings were ordered to be reviewed following a court order. “Reagan’s death, in 2004, eliminated the privacy concerns,” Mr. Naftali said. “I requested that the conversations involving Ronald Reagan be re-reviewed and, two weeks ago, the National Archives released complete versions,” he added.
According to Mr Naftali, Mr Reagan called Mr Nixon to press him to withdraw from the UN. But the president later said Mr. Reagan’s “complaints about Africans became the primary purpose of the call”. Mr. Naftali also said the president later told his secretary of state that Mr. Reagan had described the Tanzanian delegation as “cannibals” that “weren’t even wearing shoes”.
Mr. Reagan publicly defended apartheid South Africa and the white-minority state of Rhodesia in the 1970s, and Mr. Naftali said the newly-revealed recording “sheds new light” on this stance. He served as president from 1981 to 1989, at a time marked by the climax of the Cold War and the beginning of the end of Soviet communism. He died in 2004 aged 93 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. This report, by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Guardian
Main Photo: U.S. President Ronald Reagan with Mobutu SeseKu, of Zaire