Establishing the Peace Corps
Kennedy's belief in serving one's country came to life with the establishment of the Peace Corps. In 1951, he had envisioned the creation of a charitable organization that would serve the underprivileged in the Middle East. He revisited the idea in an impromptu speech on the steps of the Michigan Union at the University of Michigan during his presidential campaign. He encouraged the students to serve their country by helping the underprivileged in poor countries. Once he became president, a more well-developed proposal from Senator Hubert Humphrey spurred the idea along. On March 1, 1961, Kennedy issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps on a trial basis.
The Area Redevelopment Act “will help make it possible for thousands of Americans who want to work, to work. It will be of special help to those areas which have been subjected to chronic unemployment for many months, and in some cases for many years. In this free society we want to make it possible for everyone to find a job who wants to work and support their families, and this bill is an important step in that direction.”
The plan for those serving in the organization included no salary and only a minimum stipend for necessities. They were to live among the native people in disadvantaged countries, where they would train and help the needy. Volunteers were mainly charged with assisting and training in such projects as village development, health care, and sanitation development. The Peace Corps was restricted from acting in any way as a tool for spying or promoting propaganda. Kennedy's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, was appointed as the director. More than 5,000 people applied for the program, and the first batch of fifty-one Peace Corps volunteers served Africa from 1961 to 1962. The program expanded, and today's Peace Corps has more than 7,000 volunteers in seventy-seven countries.
President Kennedy and Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver welcome Peace Corps volunteers to Ghana and Tanganyika.
Photo Credit: Abbie Rowe, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum