Harry Morgan's Friendship Ambassadors

By Clarence W. Hall

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Harry Morgan's Friendship Ambassadors 朗読

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One day in the spring of 1959 Harry Morgan, student-body president at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., listened aghast as an exchange student from Pakistan ticked off his impressions of the United States. Nural Khan's opinions embraced many of the stock criticisms of America that are voiced by others --- stereotypes gained from newspaper headlines, from American movies and tourists.

These false images --- many of them Communist-inspired --- picture the United States as the land of disrupted family life, low moral standard, quick discrimination against all people of color. According to surveys made by the U.S. State Department, Americans are believed to be smugly complacent, shallowly religious, politically naïve, lovers of gadgets and luxury, frenzied pursuers of the fast buck. They are said to know little of other peoples --- and to care less.

Harry Morgan was shocked to discover that Nural Khan held these opinions --- since the young Pakistani had been living in the United States for two years! Nural Khan was slated to return home soon, and would be taking with him these twisted images of his host country.

"Tell me, Nural," Harry Morgan asked, "how much of the United States have you seen beyond this campus? How many Americans have you met?"

Khan admitted that he'd been no farther than New York City. His off-campus contact with Americans had been limited to an occasional visit to a fellow student's home for a holiday dinner.

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Harry Morgan did some research into the student-exchange program. He discovered that there were then in the United States 47,245 students from 131 countries. A large majority were there on scholarships provided by the U.S. government or private philanthropy, representing an investment of more than 200 million dollars. And only a tiny minority ever had a chance to see the country and meet Americans in their own homes and communities, sample their friendliness, grasp their way of life.

Convinced that Americans were getting small return on their investment in good will, Harry Morgan resolved to do something about it. A personable young man of 25, with an easy charm and quick smile, he was not without experience in helping visitors from abroad learn about the United States. For three previous years --- the first time when he was on leave from the Air Force --- he'd brought to the States small groups of average but critical Europeans. Supported by friends who bought "shares" (at $1 each) in his one-man Ambassadors for Friendship program, he'd given the visitors grass-roots tours, sent them home with a clearer picture of the United States. In his ambassadors, treasury he had $1000, and he determined, with the approval of his "shareholders," to use this for a nation-wide tour with four visiting students.

Nural Khan, of course, was first on his list. A Fulbright scholar studying for his master's degree in economics, Khan was a leader among foreign students at Rutgers, was committed to enter Pakistan's diplomatic service upon his return home. To find three others to join Khan on the tour, Harry Morgan talked with 150 foreign students at Rutgers and New York City's International House. Beyond a warped point of view about the United States, his guests-to-be needed certain qualifications: a winning personality, a sufficient facility in English to communicate to Americans an interesting picture of their own countries and customs, and an ability to interpret to their homelands what they saw of this country. After six weeks, Morgan had found his three other young Ambassadors for Friendship.

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Dorio Mutti, a student at Rutgers, came from Parma, Italy, a town largely Communist. Dorio was acting as U.S. correspondent for his home newspaper, Gazzetta di Parma --- and his dispatches had been bitter.

José Aruego, Jr., from the Philippines, a lawyer turned artist, was studying at Parsons School of Design in New York. José was doing a series of American life sketches which he planned to send to a Manila newspaper. Titled "This Is America!", the drawings were clever caricatures of New York City's worst aspects.

Hugo Vercelli, from Argentina, was a civil engineer attending classes at Columbia University. Handsome and a fiery speaker, Hugo had been a student leader in the revolt against Perón. He had gone to the States "to learn from Americans how to preserve our democracy," had found little chance to learn about "the real America" save through textbooks. Bitterly he said, "I could have read these at home."

Calling the four together, Morgan explained the all-expenses-paid, two months' trip for which they had been selected. "But where's all the money coming from, Harry? Are you rich?"

He replied, "Yes. Rich in friends, many of whom I haven't even met." He showed the students the long list of his shareholders who had financed his previous Ambassadors for Friendship tours.

His tentative itinerary covered 38 states. "We'll see a lot of natural beauty," he said. "But mainly we'll meet people, the kinds who make America what it is . You've got your ideas about them. Let's find out if you're right.

When they had examined the itinerary, he asked, "Anywhere else you'd like to go?" One said, "How about Little Rock?" Harry promptly added it. Nothing was to be off limits on this tour.

Needing a car for transportation, Harry wrote to George Romney, president of American Motors. Back came a wire : "What color?" --- and a few days later a new red-and-white Rambler station wagon was delivered, inscribed with the words "Ambassadors for Friendship" and the names of the countries represented by the students. From the Hilton Hotels Corp. came a letter offering hospitality in any city where the Hilton organization had a hotel. From friends of former tours came offers of hospitality in their homes, more than Harry could ever use.

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After four days' briefing on facets of American life by history professor George Frick, the young ambassadors set out to see how the facts fitted their notes. The first leg of the itinerary took them to Washington, D.C., to see the U.S. government at work, thence to Williambsburg, Va., shrine of the American heritage. Among the first private citizens they met were Harry Golden and Carl Sandburg, in North Carolina.

Golden, author of the best-seller Only in America, took the boys to his home, talked for hours of his experiences as "a poor kid with all the strikes against him, member of a minority group, growing up in all the wrong places, doing most of the wrong things, but --- thanks to the understanding encouragement of Americans of all creeds and colors --- managing to snatch a measure of success out of it all."

The day spent with Sandburg at his home was, as one of the students expressed it, "like a visit with Lincoln himself." Sandburg received them warmly, recited for them his poems in praise of America and excerpts from speeches by Lincoln "who gathered the feel of the American dream and saw its kindred over the earth." They left the great poetic interpreter of America's spirit with his words ringing in their ears : "We need your understanding of America. We need you to help us understand your countries. Let's weave the strands of understanding from both ends. Only so can we truly join the Family of Man!"

Sandburg's parting shot : "From here you go to Little Rock. You'll find members of the Family of Man there, too!"

To their surprise they did. At no other place on their tour did their image of what's wrong with America undergo such a sharp change. Harry Morgan saw to it that they met representatives of every shade of opinion on the issues and events that have given Little Rock an ugly reputation around the world. They talked with school-board members and teachers, with white and Negro students. Harry S.Ashmore, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Arkansas Gazette, spent an afternoon with them, reviewing the segregation problem from the American Civil War to the present.

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Nural Khan was fearful at first that his own dark skin would cause trouble. His fears melted fast. Standing on the street the first day in Little Rock, he was approached by a man who, with hand extended, said, "You're one of the students I read about in the paper? As just an average citizen, may I welcome you to my town?"

Hundreds of other average citizens displayed equal eagerness to correct the unhappy image of Little Rock projected around the globe. After every press mention of the students' presence, calls flooded in : "Please give us a chance to entertain these boys in our homes. We'd like them to hear the other side of the story."

"We got the humbling reminder that the U.S. South has no exclusive corner on prejudice," Nural Khan said. "When I get home and hear someone mention Little Rock, I must remind him that we Pakistanis have not entirely banished our caste system." Dorio Mutti wrote home, "Before we condemn Little Rock, we should remember that Italians are not bereft of their prejudices toward Ethiopians!"

Everywhere across the country Harry Morgan showed his students how average Americans live, work, play, worship, think. He took them to church clambakes and baseball games; to P.T.A. meetings, women's clubs and political rallies; to factories and industries to see how management and labor get along; to courts to see how U.S. justice works.

While traveling through the West, one of them said, "Look, Harry, how about the American Indians? Don't they hate the government for taking their land, herding them into reservations?"

Harry replied, "Let's look up some and find out."

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In Arizona they visited a section of the Hopi reservation. The chief took them on a tour of a village, introduced them to members of the tribe, told how they spent their time hunting, building homes, working together to make a better life for all. "My people are happy," said the chief. "They are free to pursue their own life and cultures as they wish."

Most stops during the trip were impromptu depending upon where nightfall caught them. "We'll take potluck with American hospitality," Harry told them, "spontaneous and unrehearsed."

Passing a farmhouse a day's end, Harry Morgan would drive up, explain the purpose of the tour --- and invariably the whole group would be invited in. they would be fed a huge farm supper, then made comfortable for the night in spare rooms and invited to spread their sleeping bags in a barn.

At an Oklahoma farm, one such stop was extended to three days when a farmer and his neighbors insisted on giving the boys a taste of American farm life and themselves an experience in international understanding. The students got up at four thirty in the morning, to do farm chores. Just before they left, a community dinner was organized and farmers and their families came from miles around to hear the boys tell of their experiences in the United States and answer questions about their homelands.

Passing a park in Hays, Kan., Harry spotted a picknicking crowd, stopped to inquire about road conditions ahead. "If you're looking for America, you've found it," said the chairman, who promptly swept them in to share the food and fun.

In Marshalltown, Iowa, one night, they stayed at the home of a truck driver. His wife cooked up a big chicken dinner, and the guests were bedded down on cots and sofas in the living room.

Amazed at "such friendliness from people I've never seen before," Hugo Vercelli from Argentina commented, "The most wonderful thing about America is its wonderful 'little people'!"

Stops were made in national parks --- the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons --- where the boys camped out and cooked their national dishes for casual guests, sat around the campfires of vacationing American families, swapping cups of coffee and stories of their experiences.

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Another of their distorted images faded fast : that Americans are provincial, isolationists, selfishly uninterested in other peoples and their problems. Said the boy from Pakistan, "You know, I've just realized where my Fulbright scholarship comes from --- not from some government agency, but from the pockets of people like these!"

The notion that Americans generally are "basically uncultured," with little interest in art, literature and music, was quickly debunked as the students were taken to art galleries, museums, libraries; saw overflowing crowds at community-sponsored concerts; observed in humble homes well-stocked bookshelves and stacks of recording of the world's finest music.

The Communist-inspired stereotype of the "greedy American capitalist" underwent sharp revision at the home of a wealthy industrialist in Michigan. "We expected to find him huddled over a stock ticker," said Vercelli. "Instead we found him in his basement, in overalls, hammer in hand, repairing a table for a library he'd founded! He talked at length about the educational foundation he had set up, and the fun he was having in giving away practically everything he had."

American family life --- formerly pictured for them as "disrupted and spoiled by easy money and easy living" --- also was a revelation. speaking before civic clubs or giving newspaper interviews, they told their audiences, "Nobody is so unjustly maligned in our countries as the American woman." They stated their amazement at discovering "how smoothly she runs her home without servants, all the while serving as wife and mother, cook and seamstress, counselor and chauffeur --- yet somehow finding time for community service as a volunteer worker."

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As for America's alleged "loose living and immorality," one told a reporter, "We've visited towns all across the country; none of them looked like 'Peyton Place, to us." Another demanded, "Why do you allow your movies sent abroad to misrepresent you so horribly?"

Perhaps the sharpest effect was registered by Dorio Mutti's weekly articles on America published in his Communist home town's Gazzetta di Parma. His descriptions of Americans ( the Iowa truck driver who "can afford to have a TV set in his home and a new car in his garage," or the housewife in Salinas, Calif., who "stayed up late to wash and iron our laundry") created a sensation. Parma's Communist mayor told Dorio's father, "Your son is giving us an understanding of America we have never had before.

The tour over, three of the students returned to their studies. Nural Khan applied to the U.S. Information Agency in Pakistan for a job. "I'd like to spread my message about America," he said, "before entering my country's diplomatic service."

As Harry says, "For generations the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor has been inviting the world to send its tired, its poor, its huddled masses. Today they're sending us their brilliant, their gifted, their leaders-to-be. It takes so little --- for an individual, a group, a community --- to show these, too, at first hand what American freedom is."

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