Records of the Foreign Affairs Agencies in the National Archives Bearing on the History of United States Relations with Africa-III: Records of Agencies Other Than the Department of State

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

At the 1969 National Archives Conference on the National Archives and Foreign Relations Research, the proceedings of which were published in 1974,[1] Morris Rieger, a longtime National Archives staff member, contributed a paper entitled “Sources in the National Archives Bearing on the History of African-American Relations.” Since that time, the National Archives has accessioned a huge volume of additional records, rendering his important essay out of date.

This is the third of four parts. It updates those portions of Rieger’s essay dealing with the records of foreign affairs agencies other than the Department of State. It includes discussion of the records of agencies not represented in the National Archives in 1969.

The holdings of the National Archives bearing on the history of American relations with Africa are very rich—so much so that in the brief space avail­able it is possible to attempt only an overview.

From the very nature of archival sources it should be clear that the National Archives contains no separate collection of materials on Africa; rather, such materials are located among the records of federal departments and agencies. The Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies, of course, take first place among them.


Numerous temporary agencies established during World War I, World War II, and the Cold War dealt with affairs in Africa within the specific framework of their own functions. The records of those agencies in the National Archives reflect this.

The propaganda agency of the United States during World War II was the Office of War Information (OWI). The records of that agency now constitute RG 208: Records of the Office of War Information. Its Mediterranean-Africa Region Informa­tional File contains OWI “outpost,” monitoring, intelligence, and research reports from and about the region. There is also on file documentation of OWI policies with respect to Africa and copies of news stories and record­ings of broadcasts directed there.

After World War II, the Department of State handled international propaganda and public diplomacy activities, and records on those functions will be found in the records of that agency described above. To consolidate all the foreign information activities of the U.S. Government into one program, the United States Information Agency (USIA) was established on August 1, 1953.  Records of that agency constitute RG 306: Records of the United States Information Agency. In addition to records of executive direction, there are records of functional offices (examples include the Information Center Service and Press and Publications Service) and geographic offices such as the Office of Near East, South Asia, and Africa.

The records on U.S. foreign assistance activities are found in a number of record groups. Before World War II, the Department of State generally handled official U.S. Government activities of that type. During the war, however, a series of agencies, culminating with the Foreign Economic Administration took care of those matters, although the Department remained heavily involved. The records of the wartime agencies are found in RG 169: Records of the Foreign Economic Administration. FEA was responsible for the wartime functions of export control, foreign procurement, lend–lease, reverse lend–lease, participation in foreign relief and rehabilitation, and economic warfare. In addition to the records of the FEA proper, this record group includes records of the following predecessor organizations: Interdepartmental Committee for Coordination of Foreign and Domestic Military Purchases (President’s Liaison Committee, 1939–1941); Division of Defense Aid Reports (1941); Office of Lend–Lease Administration (1941–1943); Office of the Administrator of Export Control (1940–1941); Economic Defense Board (1941); Board of Economic Warfare (1941–1943); Office of Economic Warfare (1943); Offices in the Department of State (Division of Controls (1938–1941)); Board of Economic Operations (1941–1943); Office of Foreign Economic Coordination (1943); Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations, Department of State (1942–1943). Documentation relating to Africa will be found scattered throughout this record group in the various country and subject files of the organizations represented. As well, there are a few series that relate specifically to Africa. Examples include the records of the American Economic Mission to Leopoldville, Belgian Congo and the U.S. Technical Project in Ethiopia.

From 1948 to 1961, a series of agencies handled U.S. foreign aid and assistance to other countries. The records of those agencies are found in RG 469: Records of U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies, 1948-1961. This collective record group includes records of the following agencies: the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), 1948-1951; the Technical Cooperation Administration (TCA), 1950-1953; the Mutual Security Agency (MSA), 1951-1953; the Foreign Operations Administration (FOA), 1953-1955; and the International Cooperation Administration (ICA), 1955-1961. The work of these agencies touched on Africa.

On November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act reorganizing the structure of U.S. foreign assistance programs. By executive order, he created a new agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The records of USAID comprise Record Group 286. USAID unified existing aid efforts from its predecessor agency, the International Cooperation Administration, along with the work of the Development Loan Fund, some functions of the Export-Import Bank, and distribution activities of the Food for Peace Program. USAID carried out significant work in Africa.

For all of the foreign assistance agencies in both RG 469 and RG 286, in addition to records of executive direction, there are records of functional offices, such as the Office of Public Safety, and geographic offices, such as the Bureau for Africa and Europe, as well as files from overseas missions.

Next: Records on microfilm or online.

[1]See Milton O. Gustafson, ed., The National Archives and Foreign Relations Research (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1974).