Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Dean Rusk (1961–1963): Secretary of State

Born on February 9, 1909, in Cherokee County, Georgia, Dean Rusk grew up in poverty. His father, a Presbyterian minister, was forced to leave the pulpit due to illness and barely made ends meet as a farmer and mail carrier. Rusk was determined to receive an education and worked his way through Davidson College. After graduating in 1931, he traveled to Oxford, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship.

Upon his return to the United States in 1934, Rusk joined the political science department at Mills College in California, becoming dean of faculty in 1938. During World War II, Rusk fought in the China-Burma-India theater, where he became deputy chief of staff to General Joseph Stilwell. Noted for his diplomatic ability, Rusk would also become the protege of General George Marshall.

In 1946, after his discharge from the Army and at the request of General Marshall, Rusk joined the State Department as assistant chief of international security affairs. Several months later, he accepted the post of special assistant to Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson. In 1947, however, Rusk returned to the State Department as director of the Office of Special Political Affairs, where he served as an aide to Robert Lovett and Dean Acheson. Three years later, he was appointed assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs. Rusk left the State Department in 1952 to take the presidential post at the Rockefeller Foundation.

In 1960, President John F. Kennedy appointed Dean Rusk as secretary of state, a post he would hold from January 1961 through January 1969. His most notable contributions in that capacity included his participation in negotiations for the 1963 test ban treaty and in conferences on the Berlin situation; he also supported economic and military aide to Korea.

Rusk also helped formulate American policy towards Indochina and became one of the leading defenders of American policy during the Vietnam War. After leaving the State Department, Rusk became a professor of law at the University of Georgia Law School. He also continued to work for economic and social aid to Central America and campaigned in defense of the antiballistic missile (ABM) treaty. Rusk died in Athens, Georgia, on December 20, 1994.