Reagan Called Africans ‘Monkeys’ In Call With Nixon, Tape Reveals

Sarah Mervosh
Niraj Chokshi

By Sarah Mervosh and Niraj Chokshi

A new­ly released record­ing of a con­ver­sa­tion from 1971 was the lat­est reminder of the long his­to­ry of racism by American pres­i­dents.

Ronald Reagan, the governor of California at the time, with President Richard M. Nixon in August 1971. A phone call between the two that included racist comments would happen later that year.
Ronald Reagan, the gov­er­nor of California at the time, with President Richard M. Nixon in August 1971. A phone call between the two that includ­ed racist com­ments would hap­pen lat­er that year.CreditCreditBettman Archive/​Getty Images

Ronald Reagan was the gov­er­nor of California in 1971 when he phoned the White House to vent his polit­i­cal frus­tra­tion to President Richard M. Nixon and, accord­ing to a new­ly released audio record­ing, called African peo­ple “mon­keys” in a slur that sparked laugh­ter from the pres­i­dent of the United States. The pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed exchange took place after the United Nations vot­ed to expel Taiwan in order to seat rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Beijing, a move that the United States opposed. Delegates from Tanzania cel­e­brat­ed with a vic­to­ry dance in the General Assembly hall. “To see those mon­keys from those African coun­tries, damn them,” Reagan said, to laugh­ter from Nixon. “They are still uncom­fort­able wear­ing shoes.” In oth­er record­ings, Nixon went on to recount his con­ver­sa­tion with Reagan to oth­ers, describ­ing the African del­e­gates as “can­ni­bals” as he sought to blame them for the United Nations vote.

Reagan opens the door and Nixon runs with the racist tropes,” said Timothy Naftali, the for­mer direc­tor of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum who request­ed the record­ing and wrote the arti­cle in The Atlantic. “This is not just a sto­ry about Reagan’s racism,” he said in an inter­view. “It’s also a reminder about how in the Oval Office, racism can beget racism” and “reveal latent racism in oth­ers.” The National Archives orig­i­nal­ly with­held part of the record­ing to pro­tect Reagan’s pri­va­cy, said Mr. Naftali, who request­ed a full ver­sion last year. He said the tim­ing of the release this month was a coin­ci­dence that offered impor­tant his­tor­i­cal con­text. con­tin­ue read­ing the sto­ry here: