Cities: Athens

Former Secretary of State Joins UGA

In this WSB news clip, reporter Lo Jelks documents the December 1969 appointment of former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk as Professor of International Law at The University of Georgia.  Rusk was the second-longest serving Secretary of State in United States history. By the late 1960s, because of his ideas regarding foreign policy during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as well as his support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rusk was a controversial public figure. 

While serving as Secretary of State, Rusk believed that the Berlin Wall was a flagrant violation of East-West peace agreements and a sign of Russia's opposition to American policies. During the Cuban missile crisis, Rusk collaborated with President Kennedy to draft a contingency plan in case Russia rejected the terms negotiated between Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Anatoly Fyodorovich Dobrynin, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Rusk backed the Vietnam War so ardently that it became widely known as “Rusk’s War.” His strong support of the war came from his belief that if America refrained from intervening in Vietnam, a war with China or Russia was inevitable.

What may have added to questions about Rusk’s appointment to The University of Georgia faculty were his views on ending segregation and ensuring the civil rights of African Americans. He reasoned that integration was crucial to the United States’s ability to win the Cold War with Russia. Arguing that racial discrimination called the country’s commitment to its own ideals into question, he feared that Russia would call attention to Jim Crow in order to rally world opinion against America.  He also worried about the difficulties that segregation presented to non-white foreign diplomats visiting southern states.  His anti-segregation stand affected him personally when Margaret Elizabeth, his daughter, married Guy Gibson Smith, an African American, at Stanford University’s Memorial Church in 1970. As recently as 1948, this interracial marriage would have been considered a criminal offense in the state of California. During the 1960s, Georgia courts began to strike down state laws banning interracial marriages. When Rusk informed President Johnson of the wedding, Rusk offered to resign if the White House considered it necessary.  

In the summer of 1996 The University of Georgia honored Rusk by dedicating a campus building constructed in his name. Dean Rusk Hall houses both the Dean Rusk Center for International, Comparative, and Graduate Legal Studies and the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education. The Dean Rusk Center, established in 1977, serves state, national, and international leaders. It plays an active role in international law and policy by hosting conferences, colloquia, and visiting scholars, and undertaking international research and outreach projects.

The decision of UGA to name this building after Rusk demonstrates its institutional goal of promoting international education on campus. Where in 1961 the school divided over the admission of two black undergraduates, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, to an all-white student body, by the early twenty-first century it has become home to students representing a variety of ethnic groups and regional and national backgrounds. Rusk's legacy as a foreign policymaker during the Cold War provides insight into how leaders and diplomats negotiate trouble spots in world affairs, and how international politics can have local and regional impact.

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Discussion Questions

1. Dean Rusk thought that war with Russia or China was inevitable during the 1960s. What nations in the twenty-first century do U.S. leaders perceive as potential sources of trouble, and what kinds of diplomatic relations can ease these tensions? For example, do you think that encouraging non-democratic countries to embrace democracy is one step towards resolving current tensions between the United States and other nations?  Why or why not?

2. Many Americans are children of interracial marriages, including celebrities such as singers Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, and Alicia Keys, President-elect Barack Obama, actor Halle Berry, golfer Tiger Woods, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey, and the late playwright August Wilson. Visit the web site entitled The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow and read the biography of nineteenth-century anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells.  In her opinion, during the Jim Crow era, economic and political concerns lay behind social taboos and legal penalties regarding interracial dating and marriage. Do you think that opinions against interracial marriage or dating persist, and if so, why?

3. Read and discuss the first chapter, "The Things They Carried," from American novelist Tim O'Brien's eponymously titled book on the Vietnam War The Things They Carried (1990), and read and discuss Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "Facing It" (1988) on the Vietnam War. Or, view Apocalypse Now (1979), which is director Francis Ford Coppola's rewriting of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902). How would you compare Rusk's position on the Vietnam War to the attitudes of the characters depicted in these literary works?

Take it to the Streets!

Divide into two groups. Debate the pros and cons of a recent policy at your school or community that affects your education or quality of life.

Find a world map or globe from the 1960s. Then compare the map to one published the year you are reading this assignment. Discuss what the changes in the maps suggest about power relations and interdependencies among countries.

Writers: Jake Averhart, Ben Avery, Amanda Lenns, Bin Lin, and William Lindsey in Professor Barbara McCaskill's ENGL 2400 class (Survey of Multicultural American Literature) at The University of Georgia, Spring 2007.      

Editor and Researcher: Professor Barbara McCaskill                                                                                                                                          Web Site Designer: William Weems

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