Margery Michelmore came to Nigeria in 1961 for the Peace Corps training at the University of Ibadan. She was not used to the life in Nigeria and she couldn’t keep this to herself. So on October 14, 1961, Margery Michelmore Heffron wrote a postcard to a friend back home in the United States of America stating the “squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions” of Nigeria. She said she was totally cut off from the world.
A student of the University of Ibadan saw the postcard before it was mailed and found the contents insulting and annoying. The angered student made copies of the postcard and distributed it round the campus which hence sparked outrage and riots. The Press also picked up the story thus making it go viral than expected. It became a front-page news all over the world. The Peace Corps staffs feared Nigeria was no longer safe for Margery Michelmore and then smuggled her out of the country. Before she was flown out of the country, she was taken to the Nigerian Governor-General, Nnamdi Azikiwe to whom she apologized. She lost her private and personal life as she bumped into Press everywhere she went. She said “Then I left in a plane. It was all very cloak-and-dagger. I came to New York via Rome and London, and in each place there were large press presences. By the time I got to New York, the press was pretty huge. I just had to deal with it“.
Margery Michelmore regretted her actions and became so bitter that she even received personal note of encouragement from John F. Kennedy himself. John F. Kennedy wrote: “Dear Miss Michelmore, I want you to know that we are most appreciative of your steadfastness in recent days. We are strongly behind you and hope that you will continue to serve in the Peace Corps. Sincerely, John F. Kennedy.”
Below is the transcript of the postcard
Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.
Thanks for reading,
- ‘I thought I might have wrecked the Peace Corps’; Margery Michelmore Heffron ’60 unknowingly creates an international incident- Christina Barber-Just
- OldNaija.com – NNamdi Azikiwe [https://oldnaija.com/2015/06/24/nnamdi-azikwe/]
- Margery Michelmore, the girl behind the post card incidence in Nigeria 1961- Greg Nwoko Historical Blog