Called newly unearthed by some, the tapes have long been known to exist and previously released, albeit redacted. But now, the Nixon Library has put on its website full, unredcated conversations then-Pres. Richard Milhouse Nixon had with various figures; some innocuous and others, quite the opposite.
The tape that’s getting the most attention today is a 12 minute and five second recording of Nixon and then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan from Oct. 26, 1971. In it, Reagan can be heard calling a delegation of African diplomats “monkeys.”
In a story by The Atlantic Tuesday, this and other tapes were published by the former head of the Nixon Presidential Library, New York University professor and historian Timothy Naftali.
Now, the Nixon library has released that and other tapes on its website. But in this recording, Reagan goes off on a racist rant and Nixon laughs along.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan can be hard saying.
Afterwards, according to The Atlantic, and the recordings provided by the Nixon library, the then-president called Secretary of State William P. Rogers with a specific agenda, as reported by The Atlantic.
Had the story stopped there, it would have been bad enough. Racist venting is still racist. But what happened next showed the dynamic power of racism when it finds enablers. Nixon used Reagan’s call as an excuse to adapt his language to make the same point to others. Right after hanging up with Reagan, Nixon sought out Secretary of State William Rogers.
Even though Reagan had called Nixon to press him to withdraw from the United Nations, in Nixon’s telling, Reagan’s complaints about Africans became the primary purpose of the call.
“As you can imagine,” Nixon confided in Rogers, “there’s strong feeling that we just shouldn’t, as [Reagan] said, he saw these, as he said, he saw these—” Nixon stammered, choosing his words carefully—“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.”
The president wanted his patrician secretary of state to understand that Reagan spoke for racist Americans, and they needed to be listened to. “You know, but that’s typical of a reaction, which is probably”—“That’s right,” Rogers interjected—“quite strong.”
Listen to Nixon and Smith here.
“Reagan called me last night,” Nixon said, “and I didn’t talk to him until this morning, but he is, of course, outraged. And I found out what outraged him, and I find this is typical of a lot of people: They saw it on television and, he said, ‘These cannibals jumping up and down and all that.’ And apparently it was a pretty grotesque picture.” Like Nixon, Rogers had not seen the televised images. But Rogers agreed: “Apparently, it was a terrible scene.” Nixon added, “And they cheered.”
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