Ronald Reagan called representatives of an African country’s government “monkeys” in a 1971 telephone call with then-President Richard Nixon, according to a newly released recording of the private conversation.
The National Archives released audio of the call between Nixon and Reagan, who was then the GOP governor of California, earlier this month. Nixon, dogged by the Watergate scandal, resigned the presidency in disgrace in 1974. Reagan went on to serve two terms as president in the 1980s.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries. Damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes,” Reagan told Nixon, reportedly in reference to members of the Tanzanian delegation dancing in the United Nations’ General Assembly following its vote to recognize the People’s Republic of China.
Reagan also reportedly lobbied Nixon during their exchange to withdraw the U.S. from the U.N. over the other members’ support of China.
In a subsequent telephone call to then-Secretary of State William Rogers, Nixon said Reagan “saw these cannibals on television last night, and he says, ‘Christ, they weren’t even wearing shoes, and here the United States is going to submit its fate to that,’ and so forth and so on.”
Tim Naftali, the director of the Nixon Presidential Library from 2007 to 2011, requested a review of the redaction. The National Archives released the full clip earlier this month, and The Atlantic shared it Tuesday, along with Naftali’s commentary.
“The past month has brought presidential racism back into the headlines,” wrote Naftali, referencing President Donald Trump’s recent racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and the city of Baltimore.
“This October 1971 exchange between current and future presidents is a reminder that other presidents have subscribed to the racist belief that Africans or African Americans are somehow inferior,” Naftali added. “The most novel aspect of President Donald Trump’s racist gibes isn’t that he said them, but that he said them in public.”