Obituary: E. W. Kenworthy

Click to follow
Edwin Wentworth Kenworthy, journalist and public servant, born Attleboro Massachusetts 23 September 1909, staff Office of War Information Washington 1943-45, US Embassy London 1946-47, Executive Secretary Fahy Committee on Desegregation in the Armed Services 1949-50, staff New York Times 1950-77, married 1937 Elizabeth Carter (died 1977; two sons, one daughter), 1988 Martha Bowditch Weyl, died Washington DC 25 January 1993.

E. W. KENWORTHY was an erudite American journalist to whom Britain owes a considerable debt of gratitude. He was also indirectly responsible for the fact that a black man is now the Chief of Staff of the US Armed Services.

During the Second World War Ned Kenworthy worked in the Office of War Information (OWI), in Washington, where his task was to send an informal daily 'Letter from America' to the American embassy and the OWI missions in London, telling them what was going on in Congress and in the Administration, and what the principal papers and columnists were saying in approval or criticism. Copies were given to Churchill, and soon 20 other American embassies around the world had asked for it.

A year after the end of the war Kenworthy was posted to the London embassy where he oversaw the editing and distribution of the material received from the OWI's peacetime successor, the United States Information Service. At his first meeting with his London staff he said he wanted them in by 7am so that their daily report could be circulated by noon. There were groans, which he silenced by saying that they could go home that much earlier.

In May 1947 Dean Acheson, Acting Secretary of State in the absence of General Marshall at a Big Four conference in Moscow, was asked by President Truman to make a speech at Cleveland, Mississippi. Acheson referred to the appalling winter which Britain had just endured and discussed the desperate need of all Western Europe for dollar aid to fund a co- operative reconstruction of their war-shattered economies. The speech was little noticed at the time by the correspondents in Washington or by the news agencies. But as soon as the State Department cabled Acheson's full text to Kenworthy in London, he appreciated its significance and rushed it to Donald Tyerman, assistant editor of the Times, who printed it at length.

This in turn led to much public discussion on both sides of the Atlantic of what was then called the 'Continental Plan', foreshadowing the offer that Marshall himself made at Harvard a month later, which became the Marshall Plan.

Three months before the presidential election of 1948 Truman set up the Fahy Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, designed to prevent the segregation of racial minorities. Kenworthy was the Executive Secretary of this committee and wrote its report. He knew that if the committee merely made recommendations to the president the armed services would take their own time in implementing them. What were needed, he argued, were negotiations directly with the services, and the discreet issuing of orders to all stations. This would forestall a fuss from the Senate Armed Services Committee, then under the control of reactionary Southern Democrats.

The Air Force and the Navy were easy targets, but the Army fought bitterly against integration. Kenworthy uncovered an enormous waste of manpower because qualified blacks were not allowed to go to army schools. The committee first forced the Army to open all schools to blacks. This in turn obliged the Army to place them, after graduation, in what had hitherto been white units. Ned Kenworthy was prouder of the work he did on racial desegregation than on any other of his accomplishments.

From 1950 Kenworthy spent 27 years working for the New York Times, first in New York itself and then in Washington, where he covered government and politics with great distinction. He was highly intelligent and had a droll sense of humour. His first wife, Elizabeth Carter, died in 1977 after 40 years' marriage. His second wife, Martha Bowditch, the widow of Joachim Weyl, whom he married 11 years later, provided him with what he called 'happy late love'.