With its original campus built in 1985, Dean Rusk Middle School has been a part of Canton for nearly 40 years. I recently discovered that my editor (yes, I have one; some of what I write would be unintelligible without her) attended Dean Rusk, but couldn’t remember learning anything about its namesake.
Rusk, born in Cherokee County in 1909, graduated from Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and then served this nation laudably. He had a hand in the establishment of the 38th parallel as the border between North and South Korea, and in resolving the Cuban missile crisis. His support of the Vietnam War ultimately led to the end of his political career.
I would encourage you to review “Remembering Dean Rusk” (link below), to read a thorough and fascinating synopsis of his career, as it is far too lengthy for me to cover here. He had a lasting influence on American diplomacy, but, for this article, I’d like to focus on Rusk’s well-documented opposition to racism, as it often is overlooked.
Rusk enrolled in Hanover University in Germany after graduating from Oxford, and was in Berlin on the day in March 1933 when Hitler seized power. Prior to graduating in 1934, he attended a Nazi rally with a friend from India. When the soldier at the gate told the man that only Aryans were allowed in, Rusk stated that his friend was the purest form of Aryan, explaining the Aryan invasion of northwestern India in 1800-1500 B.C.
The soldier, considering this an insult to the Fuhrer, hauled Rusk off and questioned him for several hours before finally dismissing him as a crazy American who had no idea what he was talking about. Seeing firsthand in Nazi Germany the inhumanity caused by a belief in racial superiority undoubtedly influenced his support for civil rights.
Later, while working in the U.S. Department of State, Rusk discovered that ambassadors and U.N. delegates from African countries were refused service in many Washington, D.C., businesses, and were not allowed to dine with their white counterparts in several restaurants. Rusk assigned people in the State Department to field complaints and meet with local businessmen, restaurateurs and realtors to deal with the problem.
Rusk testified in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and voiced his support for many civil rights demonstrations. “If I were denied what our Negro citizens are denied, I would demonstrate,” he said. Rusk also ensured that our nation’s immigration policies reflected racial tolerance, and that quota systems were applied evenly to every nation. He publicly stated his opposition to apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s, long before the U.S. government imposed economic sanctions in 1986.
Perhaps the most telling personal stand on the equality of all, though, was the September 1967 wedding of his daughter, Peggy, to Army officer Guy Smith, who was Black. The wedding took place soon after the Supreme Court struck down miscegenation laws, and the father of the bride went on record as “well pleased.” When the wedding photo appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Rusk offered to resign as secretary of state if it proved to be a distraction to the administration. President Lyndon B. Johnson stuck to his statement when Rusk had earlier tried to resign, after the Kennedy assassination: “I want you as secretary of state as long as I am president.”
Rendered blind in 1984, Rusk dictated his memoirs to his son, Richard, which eventually were published under the title “As I Saw It.” He passed away in 1994, and is buried in Athens, where he taught international law at the University of Georgia for more than a decade.
– The Wanderer has been a resident of Cherokee County for nearly 20 years, and constantly is learning about his community on daily walks, which totaled a little more than 1,800 miles in 2021. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.