Last week, the Peace Corps Community Archive blog featured a post on Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps. This week, we are focusing on Shriver’s brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, who established the Peace Corps in 1961. While campaigning the previous year, Kennedy gave an impromptu speech to a number of students at the University of Michigan. He asked the assembled students, “I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress.” Inspired by the spirit of volunteerism Kennedy encountered among young voters during the 1960 campaign, he issued an executive order in 1961 establishing the Peace Corps as “responsible for the training and service abroad of men and women of the United States in new programs of assistance to nations and areas of the world, and in conjunction with or in support of existing economic assistance programs of the United States and of the United Nations and other international organizations.”
Many Peace Corps volunteers serving in the 1960s were likewise inspired by the legacy of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Peace Corps volunteer Terry Kennedy (Colombia 1964-66, no relation), wrote to his parents less than one year after JFK’s assassination about the reverence the Colombians had for President Kennedy. Terry wrote home, “How do you like the Kennedy Stamps? The Americans that the people down here admire are JFK and Lincoln and Washington.” This and other letters from Terry Kennedy during his time in the Peace Corps are available to research in the Peace Corps Community Archive at American University.
Colombia issued these stamps in memory of John F. Kennedy. These stamps demonstrate the respect other countries had for the recently assassinated President. Colombia was not the only South American country to honor President Kennedy. Argentina also created their own version of a Kennedy Stamp, one of which (pictured, right) is found in the Jack Child Collection at the American University Archive and Special Collections.