Watch CBS News

Reagan called African UN delegates "monkeys" in newly released recording with Nixon

Recording reveals racist comment by Reagan
Reagan called African delegates "monkeys" in recording 01:44

Washington — Surprising audio recordings have surfaced of a phone conversation nearly a half century ago between President Richard Nixon and future President Ronald Reagan. The recordings were released by the National Archives, and they capture the men using racist language.

President Richard Nixon recorded himself talking to Ronald Reagan in October 1971, when Reagan was the governor of California. It was the day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People's Republic of China.

Reagan called Nixon at the White House to vent his frustration at African delegates who celebrated the vote. 

"Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did ... to see those, those monkeys from those African countries. Damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes," Reagan said.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation said Wednesday "if he said that 50 years ago, he shouldn't have. And he would be the first person to apologize."

After talking with Reagan, Nixon called Secretary of State William Rogers and adopted Reagan's racist language. 

"He saw these, uh, these cannibals on television last night, and he says, 'Christ, they weren't even wearing shoes,' and he says here the United States is going to submit its fate to that," Nixon said.

Later that month, Nixon laughed at these comments from his best friend Bebe Rebozo.

"That reaction on television was that it proves how they ought to be still hanging from the trees by their tails," Rebozo said.

Even in 1971, that language would have been shocking to the general public. President Trump has been under fire for his own racist comments and tweets recently. On Tuesday, he said he is the "least racist person there is in the world."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.