Newly-unearthed tapes reveal an astonishingly racist private exchange between President Richard Nixon and then-California Governor Ronald Reagan.
The tapes, which were recorded on Oct. 21, 1971, have been held in the Nixon Presidential Library but kept secret due to privacy concerns for years. They where just unearthed by NYU professor Tim Naftali and former director of the Nixon library, who shared them with the Atlantic.
The recording offers a new look into the casually racist views of some of the most prominent leaders in the country at the time.
“Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan tells the president about African delegates to the United Nations. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”
Nixon responds with a laugh.
Just minutes after getting off the phone with Reagan, Nixon calls the Tanzanians “cannibals” who weren't "even wearing shoes” in a call with his Secretary of State, William Rogers.
The conversations stemmed from a vote the night before when the United Nations voted to offer a delegation seat to communist Beijing instead of Taiwan, whose government had been expelled from China’s mainland Communist Party 21 years earlier.
It was reported at the time that Tanzanian delegates celebrated the occasion by dancing after the vote. This did not fly with Reagan, who, like the rest of Washington, had a vested interest in Taiwan being recognized internationally as a government independent from China. A vote in the other direction would have meant one less communist government on the United Nations’ Security Council.
The United Nations vote came up once more during a conversation the former president has with his best friend, Florida businessman Bebe Rebozo Oct. 31.
“The hell with all these stinking nations,” Rebozo said to Nixon. “That reaction on television [...] proves how they ought to be still hanging from the trees by their tails.”
The tapes were originally released in 2000, but the racist portion of this conversation had been redacted “to protect Reagan’s privacy,” according to Naftali.
After Reagan’s death in 2004, those concerns were thrown out. The National Archives began to re-reviewing the early Nixon tapes in 2017, and last year, Naftali, who served a director of the Nixon Presidential Library from 2007 to 2011, requested the Reagan/Nixon conversation be released in its entirety.
Naftali says that the exchange between the two politicians nearly 50 years ago showcases that President Trump’s recent comments about members of Congress and the urban cities they represent aren’t especially uncommon.
“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,” the professor writes in the Atlantic. “The most novel aspect of President Donald Trump’s racist gibes isn’t that he said them, but that he said them in public.”
Cover: Politicians Ronald Reagan (R) and Richard Nixon campaigning in 1972. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)