23 August 2004

Africa: Remembrance: J. Wayne Fredericks


J. Wayne Fredericks, who, in both official and unofficial roles, was a pioneering advocate of a closer and better-informed relationship between the United States and Africa, died of a stroke on August 18 in Bronxville, N.Y. He was 87 years old and had been in failing health for some time.

The seeds of Fredericks' involvement were planted in South Africa in the 1950s, when the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan sent him to Springs, South Africa to establish a Kellogg plant. While the plant was still under construction, he encountered South Africa's newly introduced "job reservation" legislation, which restricted black employment opportunities by reserving categories of skilled occupation to whites. He saw this as deeply unjust, and it kindled his desire to end apartheid policy.

In the years that followed, he worked with, and befriended, many leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, including Nelson Mandela. The two shared, among other things, an interest in education. When the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg awarded Fredericks an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1987, the citation said, in part, "He has worked tirelessly for the advancement of democracy in South Africa and for the establishment of truly equal education for its disadvantaged people."

The citation also noted, with considerable understatement, that Fredericks was "quiet, modest and self-effacing." Even close friends were unaware of his military record in World War II. He had joined the Army Air Force in 1940 and was among the first B-17 bomber pilots to be sent to Britain after the United States entered the war. He flew 50 missions-the maximum number pilots were allowed to fly - for the newly formed Eighth Air Force. He then became a liaison officer with the Royal Air Force. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Legion of Merit, Order of the British Empire and Croix de Guerre (France). He was discharged in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1951, during the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty.

In 1954, after he was again discharged from the Air Force, he rejoined the Kellogg Company, but in 1956 he left for the Ford Foundation in New York. He developed the foundation's first projects in crime and delinquency and became associate director of its South and Southeast Asia program.

But it was Africa to which Fredericks returned time and again. Successive Washington administrations had paid little attention to Africa. But by the late 1950s, the winds of change were sweeping across the continent, and the United States took notice. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed G. Mennen Williams, the former governor of Michigan, as the first assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Williams asked Fredericks to be the deputy assistant secretary. In that post, he initiated the first quiet contacts between U.S. government officials and leaders of southern Africa's liberation movements.

But to do this, Fredericks often had to challenge official policy and change Cold War ways of thinking. He argued, for example, that Belgium was a far greater threat to stability in the Congo than the Soviet Union, and that Belgium would have to withdraw from the country before the United Nations could deal with the secession of Congo's Katanga province.

Similarly, Fredericks sided with Eduardo Mondlane, the Mozambiquan nationalist and founder of the Frelimo independence movement, who visited Washington to warn that Frelimo would respond militarily unless Portugal agreed to talks with rebel leaders. The Administration wanted to ignore Mondlane, and after Fredericks was photographed with the Mozambiquan leader on African Freedom Day at Howard University in Washington, Secretary of State Dean Rusk ordered Fredericks to forgo any similar activity in the future. Fredericks offered to resign from the State Department, but Rusk backed down. Fredericks subsequently arranged a meeting between Mondlane and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

After Williams left the State Department, Fredericks served from 1965 through 1967 as the acting assistant secretary. The reawakened U.S. government interest in Africa, the New York Times said in an editorial just before he left office, was a tribute to his "persistence." "In five years of hard work," the paper said, "he has done much to persuade the State Department's seventh floor that Africa exists and will not go away - a considerable achievement."

Fredericks received the State Department's Superior Honor Award (1965) and Distinguished Honor Award (1967), as well as decorations from the governments of Cote d'Ivoire and Ethiopia.

In 1977 the newly inaugurated President Carter signaled his intention to nominate Fredericks as assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Fredericks, however, was injured in an automobile accident, and while he was recuperating Carter nominated someone else.

Saddened, Fredericks returned to his position as executive director of international governmental affairs for the Ford Motor Company, where he was often referred to as Henry Ford's secretary of state. Ford had first approached Fredericks when, after leaving the State Department, he returned to the Ford Foundation to direct its Middle East and Africa program. Fredericks, though, was not interested. Shortly afterwards he became director of international relations for Chase Manhattan Bank, but he found it unrewarding and accepted Ford's offer. He remained at the Ford Motor Company until his retirement in 1987, after which he became counselor in residence at the Institute for International Education.

During his career, Fredericks was affiliated with a number of organizations that had an African connection. He was either a trustee or a director of the Institute of International Education, the Overseas Development Council, the Near East Foundation, the Africa-America Institute, the African Student Aid Fund, the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, the Institute for East-West Security Studies and the U.S.-South Africa Leader Exchange Program. In the 1990s he worked with Mandela on education programs in South Africa. He was also a director of Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund.

As a longtime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he was among the first to advocate introducing Africa into its programs, helping through the decades to bring African leaders and issues to the Council membership. He was also a member of the Century Association.

Jacob Wayne Fredericks was born on Feb. 26, 1917 in Wakarusa, Indiana, with Mennonite ancestors apparently on both sides of his family. He attended public schools in Wakarusa, and was graduated from Purdue University in 1938 with an honors degree in engineering. In 1952 he married Anne Curtis, who survives him, along with a son, William, a daughter, Maria and two grandchildren.


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