June 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tanzania: Black Issues: History: Daytona Beach News-Journal: Jeremiah Parson's Memories of life as black volunteer in the Peace Corps in 1961 in Tanzania remain fresh

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tanzania: Peace Corps Tanzania: The Peace Corps in Tanzania: June 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tanzania: Black Issues: History: Daytona Beach News-Journal: Jeremiah Parson's Memories of life as black volunteer in the Peace Corps in 1961 in Tanzania remain fresh

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-22-73.balt.east.verizon.net - on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 4:08 pm: Edit Post

Jeremiah Parson's Memories of life as black volunteer in the Peace Corps in 1961 in Tanzania remain fresh

Jeremiah Parson's Memories of life as black volunteer in the Peace Corps  in 1961 in Tanzania remain fresh

Jeremiah Parson's Memories of life as black volunteer in the Peace Corps in 1961 in Tanzania remain fresh

Memories of life in the Peace Corps remain fresh

Staff Writer

Last update: 28 June 2004

PALM COAST -- Jeremiah Parson's face fills with awe as he recalls the first time he encountered a herd of elephants in Africa.

The memories of life in the Peace Corps remain fresh, even four decades later.

The sound of crocodile tails whipping in nearby grassy swamps. The thrill of racing a car in the Kenyan mud. And the grateful faces of hundreds of men, women and children.

"I think I've always wanted to go to Africa, and I always wanted to help people," Parson says, sitting in his living room with African-style paintings on a wall behind him. "That seemed like a good combination of both."

Parson, 67, vividly recounts his adventures as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers.

His hair and goatee graying, his speech soft and metered, he exudes the dignified air of a village elder discoursing about a land that had called to him since he was a child growing up with 11 siblings in Albany, N.Y.

The fledgling Peace Corps allowed him to answer that call in 1961.

While in Africa, he surveyed untamed terrain so that a road, bridge or building could be constructed. He also taught villagers how to use surveying equipment.

His Peace Corps stint lasted until 1963, long enough to bind him emotionally to Africa and change his life's course. He would stay on the continent for 22 years, administering U.S. aid for roads, schools and the economy.

It was a life very different than the one from which he came.

As a teenager, Parson joined the Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., so he could be paid to parachute. Later, he went to work as a civil engineer for the Connecticut Highway Department, making sure roads were built properly.

It was at the same time that President Kennedy was launching a program to recruit skilled volunteers to help improve living conditions in Third World countries.

With a bongo-driven song softly playing on his stereo, and clad in a bright, African-style shirt, Parson thumbs through two scrapbooks. They are filled with yellowed newspaper articles and Peace Corps documents showing he was in one of the first two teams assigned overseas.

He says he was the only black volunteer in his group.

A photograph in a Peace Corps newsletter shows the two groups gathered with Kennedy at the White House in November 1961. Parson's team, made up of 37 volunteers, wound up in Tanganyika, known today as Tanzania.

Parson and Tom Katus, a South Dakota resident, developed a lifelong friendship that dates back to those surveying patrols in the wilds, some lasting as long as 18 days.

Katus describes Parson as a complex man who values action more than chatter.

"He's not a verbal firebrand, and he has a quiet commitment that goes a long way," Katus says, calling Parson as "stoic, stubborn, very warm, very gracious." But he doesn't take any guff, he says.

Parson is a Republican, though he doesn't neatly fit the conservative tag, Katus says. "You'll find he's the most pro-American you'll ever meet, and (yet) he'll be openly critical of the United States."

Parson's philosophy is to help people help themselves, rather than give them a handout -- something he did in the Peace Corps.

Not all of his memories of Africa or the Peace Corps are fond.

Parson was bitten many times by tsetse flies that carry the dreaded "sleeping sickness," but somehow he avoided the disease. He did come down with malaria several times. His last bout with the recurring illness occurred more than 20 years ago, although he knows the disease will always be with him.

"I could get malaria tomorrow," Parson laments.

Disease-carrying insects didn't provide the only sting. Segregation still was the norm in many parts of America during the early 1960s.

Before going overseas, his Peace Corps team trained for eight weeks in El Paso.

A bar owner there refused to serve Parson. In protest, his entire group boycotted the town's businesses. Later, when the El Paso mayor gave the volunteers certificates declaring them honorary citizens, Parson shook the politician's hand, strolled away and ripped up the paper.

By contrast, Africans treated him like royalty. One family even offered him their daughter as a bride.

"I was the first black American they'd ever seen," Parson says, smiling. "They thought I was a lost African returning."

The Peace Corps is still alive today, and Parson says he is sure he made a difference in those early years with the lives he touched. A young man named Gabriel Bacara, one of his surveying assistants, became a regional engineer.

"I didn't believe it," Parson says, shaking his head.

His time in Africa provided other rewards.

Parson renewed his childhood passion for auto racing, something he often did illegally on the streets of Albany.

Parson competed twice in the East African Safari, a premier 300-mile road race, but failed to finish both times, he says. He also raced in the Kenya Rally Drivers Club and in dozens of regional events, never winning.

Parson saw himself as a goodwill ambassador.

"I was there, I was enjoying myself," he says. "I was showing other people they could, too."

Fast, vintage machines remain a big part of Parson's life, as evidenced by a green, 1960 T-bird he is restoring and a motorcycle in his garage.

But racing is an endeavor Parson has relinquished with age. "I don't even drive standard-shift cars anymore, except my motorcycle," he says. Still, he acknowledges he sometimes enjoys gunning his car to 100 mph on the freeway.

Parson, who sells real estate part time, sees a lack of funds and marketing-savvy, not racism, as the main obstacles facing minority drivers trying to break into NASCAR and other racing circuits, adding that corporate sponsors will back a winner, no matter a person's color.

"You've got to stop blaming race," Parson says. "You have to really work at it, and use the skills you have."

Parson did.


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Story Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tanzania; Black Issues; History



By Janice Watson, Pan-African Books ( on Saturday, January 22, 2005 - 4:56 am: Edit Post

I just stumbled upon this web site. And this is for you all Peace Corps who once worked in Tanzania.

One Tanzanian who was taught by American Peace Corps in the sixties has written quite a few books. His name is Godfrey Mwakikagile. His books are listed on amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other online sellers. And he has more titles at these web sites:



Asante sana.

Janice Watson
Pan-African Books

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