Ronald Reagan Caught on Tape Calling African People 'Monkeys' in Resurfaced Call with Richard Nixon

The then-governor of California was angry that the U.N. voted to seat a delegation from Beijing instead of Taiwan and that delegates from Tanzania were celebrating

Ronald Reagan Speaking at the Republican National Convention
Photo: Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Former President Ronald Reagan once referred to people from Africa as “monkeys” who were “still uncomfortable wearing shoes” in a heated phone call with Richard Nixon that has come to light decades later.

According to an article in The Atlantic published Tuesday, Reagan was the governor of California when he called then-President Nixon in 1971 to voice his thoughts on the United Nations’ vote to seat a delegation from Beijing instead of Taiwan, as Reagan had wanted

An ardent Taiwan supporter, per The Atlantic, he was furious that delegations from Africa weren’t on his side and grew particularly incensed after he saw delegates from Tanzania dancing in celebration of the vote on TV.

“Last night, I tell ya, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan told Nixon in a recording of the call published by The Atlantic. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”

The Atlantic article was written by Tim Naftali, director of the Nixon Presidential Library from 2007 to 2011.

Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon
Former Presidents Ronald Reagan (left) and Richard Nixon. Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty; Bachrach/Getty

Nixon responded to Reagan’s complaints with a hearty laugh then replied, “Well and then they — the tail wags the dog there, doesn’t it? The tail wags the dog.”

The Atlantic reports that Nixon later spoke to then-Secretary of State William Rogers and recounted Reagan’s racist words to him.

“As you can imagine, there’s strong feeling that we just shouldn’t, as [Reagan] said, he saw these, as he said, he saw these, these uh, these cannibals on television last night, and he says, ‘Christ, they weren’t even wearing shoes, and here the United States is going to submit its fate to that,’ and so forth and so on,” Nixon said, according The Atlantic.

He told Rogers the story once again two hours later, calling Reagan “outraged.”

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“He practically got sick at his stomach, and that’s why he called. And he said, ‘It was a terrible scene.’ And that sort of thing will have an emotional effect on people … as [Reagan] said, ‘This bunch of people who don’t even wear shoes yet, to be kicking the United States in the teeth’ … It was a terrible thing, they thought,’” Nixon said.

According to Naftali, it was important to Nixon to continue quoting Reagan, as he didn’t think of himself as a racist, even though he considered blacks inferior to whites.

The conversation between Reagan and Nixon was first released in 2000 by the National Archives. However, The Atlantic reports that the racist portion was cut out in order to protect the privacy of Reagan, who by then was in his late 80s. He passed away from pneumonia in 2004, after years with Alzheimer’s. He was 93.

A spokeswoman with the Reagan Foundation did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on The Atlantic article.

The foundation did, however, tweet a Reagan quote on Wednesday that seemingly alluded to the controversy, as it read, “We can preserve the dream of America…We need all our people, men and women, young and old, individuals of every race, to be happy, healthy, and whole. And that’s what our job is all about.”

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