Year
1961
Month Day
September 22

President Kennedy signs Peace Corps legislation

In an important victory for his Cold War foreign policy, President John F. Kennedy signs legislation establishing the Peace Corps as a permanent government agency. Kennedy believed that the Peace Corps could provide a new and unique weapon in the war against communism.

During the presidential campaign of 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy promised to reinvigorate U.S. foreign policy. He charged that the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower had become stagnant and unimaginative in dealing with the communist threat, particularly in regards to the so-called Third World nations. Shortly after his inauguration in January 1961, Kennedy made good on his promise for a new and aggressive foreign policy. On March 1, 1961, he issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. As described by Kennedy, this new organization would be an “army” of civilian volunteers–teachers, engineers, agricultural scientists, etc.–who would be sent to underdeveloped nations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and elsewhere to assist the people of those regions.

Kennedy hoped that by improving the lives of people in less developed countries, they would become more resistant to the charms of communism and convinced of America’s sincerity and ability to help them. Many in Congress, however, were not convinced. The program carried a fairly hefty price tag. Though the participants were volunteers, they would need basic subsistence and, more important, tools and money to help the people they were sent to assist. Some members of Congress saw it as an expensive public relations ploy, foreign aid (which had never been popular with Congress or the American people) wrapped in a new ribbon. The program, however, actually turned out to have popular appeal. Stories about idealistic young Americans braving privation in foreign lands to help people grow better crops, build schools, or construct wells was good public relations material for the United States. In September 1961, Congress passed legislation establishing the Peace Corps on a permanent basis. A budget of $40 million for the next fiscal year was approved.

In the years after 1961, thousands of Peace Corps volunteers were sent around the world. Some faced indifference, some even faced danger. For the most part, however, the Peace Corps “army” proved to be a valuable, and relatively inexpensive, Cold War weapon for the United States. Most nations welcomed the idealistic volunteers, and their labor helped make better lives for hundreds of thousands of people. Though the Peace Corps is no longer viewed as a weapon against communism, its goal of improving lives remains intact.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Shaka Zulu assassinated

Shaka, founder of the Zulu Kingdom of southern Africa, is murdered by his two half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, after Shaka’s mental illness threatened to destroy the Zulu tribe. When Shaka became chief of the Zulus in 1816, the tribe numbered fewer than 1,500 and was among ...read more

The first Farm Aid concert is held in Champaign, Illinois

It started with an offhand remark made by Bob Dylan during his performance at Live Aid, the massive fundraising concert held at Wembley Stadium, London, and JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, in the early summer of 1985. As television viewers around the world phoned in donations in ...read more

U-boat devastates British squadron

In the North Sea, the German U-9 submarine sinks three British cruisers, the Aboukir, the Hogue and the Cressy, in just over one hour. The one-sided battle, during which 1,400 British sailors lost their lives, alerted the British to the deadly effectiveness of the submarine, ...read more

Iran-Iraq War begins

Long-standing border disputes and political turmoil in Iran prompt Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to launch an invasion of Iran’s oil-producing province of Khuzestan. After initial advances, the Iraqi offense was repulsed. In 1982, Iraq voluntarily withdrew and sought a peace ...read more

The famous “four-level” opens in Los Angeles

On September 22, 1953, the first four-level (or “stack”) interchange in the world opens in Los Angeles, California, at the intersection of the Harbor, Hollywood, Pasadena, and Santa Ana freeways. It was, as The Saturday Evening Post wrote, “a mad motorist’s dream”: 32 lanes of ...read more

Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which sets a date for the freedom of more than 3 million enslaved in the United States and recasts the Civil War as a fight against slavery. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, ...read more

Captain Ernest Medina is acquitted of all My Lai Massacre charges

Captain Ernest Medina is acquitted of all charges relating to the My Lai Massacre of March 1968. His unit, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade (Light) of the 23rd (Americal) Division, was charged with the murder of over 200 Vietnamese civilians, ...read more

President Ford survives second assassination attempt

On September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore aims a gun at President Gerald Ford as he leaves the Saint Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California. The attempt on the president’s life came only 17 days after another woman had tried to assassinate Ford while he was on his way to give a ...read more

"Friends" debuts

On September 22, 1994, the television sitcom Friends, about six young adults living in New York City, debuts on NBC. The show, which featured a group of relatively unknown actors, went on to become a huge hit and air for 10 seasons. It also propelled the cast—Jennifer Aniston, ...read more

Train derails in Alabama swamp

An Amtrak train headed to Miami derails near Mobile, Alabama, killing 47 people on September 22, 1993. The accident, the deadliest in Amtrak’s history, was caused by a negligent towboat operator and foggy conditions. The Sunset Limited train travels from Los Angeles through Texas ...read more

So-called Midtown Stabber kills his first victim

Glenn Dunn is shot and killed outside a Buffalo supermarket by a man carrying a gun concealed in a paper bag. His murder was the first in a series of strange attacks in both upstate New York and New York City. Within two days, three other young men were murdered. One was killed ...read more

Nathan Hale is executed by the British for spying

In New York City on September 22, 1776, Nathan Hale, a Connecticut schoolteacher and captain in the Continental Army, is executed by the British for spying. A graduate of Yale University, Hale joined a Connecticut regiment in 1775 and served in the successful siege of ...read more

General Patton questions necessity of Germany's "denazification"

On September 22, 1945, Gen. George S. Patton tells reporters that he does not see the need for “this denazification thing” and compares the controversy over Nazism to a “Democratic and Republican election fight.”  Descended from a long line of military men, Patton graduated from ...read more