Former US President Ronald Reagan described African delegates to the UN as “monkeys” in 1971, when he was governor of California. He made this racist comment on the phone to Richard Nixon, then president of the United States, who had the habit of recording all his phone calls.
Ronald Reagan was furious that African delegates to the UN did not side with the US in a vote to recognize China and expel Taiwan. After the vote, members of the Tanzanian delegation began dancing at the United Nations General Assembly.
When Mr. Reagan called Mr. Nixon the next day, he asked if he had watched the vote on television. He went on to say, “seeing these monkeys, these monkeys from these African countries, for God’s sake, they’re still uncomfortable with shoes!”
Mr. Nixon laughed.
The recording was “dug up” by Tim Naftali, an associate professor of history at New York University, who had directed the Nixon Presidential Library, which kept all the recorded audiotapes by Mr. Nixon, from 2007 to 2011.
In his article in The Atlantic, Naftali explains that the racist exchange was removed from the recorded conversation when it was published in 2000 by the National Archives for confidentiality reasons. Mr. Reagan was still alive at the time.
Naftali points out that, as a result of a court order, the recordings were revised. “Reagan’s death in 2004 eliminated confidentiality issues and last year, as a researcher, I asked that the Ronald Reagan conversations be reconsidered, and two weeks ago the National Archives published online full versions of the October 1971 conversations about Reagan.”
According to Naftali, Mr. Reagan had called Mr. Nixon to urge him to withdraw from the UN, but in the president’s speech, he said that “Mr. Reagan’s complaints against Africans have become the main focus of the appeal.”
In an account of the conversation to his secretary of State, Mr. Nixon said, “he saw these cannibals… those cannibals on television last night, and he said, “Jesus, they didn’t even wear shoes, and here the United States will subject their lot to that,” and so on…”.
Naftali says the recording provides a better understanding of Reagan’s support for Rhodesia and South Africa, which practiced apartheid later in the 1970s.