Jersey Reflections: Cold War Thaw

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The 1967 Glassboro summit between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin was just that.

The 1967 Glassboro summit between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin was just that.

The 1967 Glassboro summit between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, which was held from Friday to Sunday, June 23-25, at Hollybush Mansion on the campus of Glassboro State College, represented a thaw in the Cold War relations between the world’s two superpowers. Yet it also provided this South Jersey location a place in the annals of U.S. history.

The agenda of the summit focused on the Middle East situation provoked by the recent Israeli-Arab Six Day War, the ongoing Vietnam War that had required an increase of American troops and the U.S.-Soviet arms race. While the two leaders were occupied with these issues on Sunday, Kosygin’s daughter, Mrs. Lyudmila A. Gvishiani, spent several hours at Island Beach State Park with the president’s wife and elder daughter at the summer home of New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes. The afternoon also included an aerial tour of southern New Jersey by White House helicopter to provide Mrs. Gvishiani with a view of the area’s farms and highways.

But back in Glassboro, the summit had attracted the attention of many residents who sensed its historical import. According to the New York Times, a crowd of 3,000 filled Whitney Street near Hollybush following that morning’s church services where pastors and parishioners prayed for world peace. 

In 1967, Gloucester County was still governed by a law prohibiting the sale of liquor on Sundays, so the Pitman-Glassboro Jaycees and other organizations sold only soft drinks in response to complaints from parched residents who had been in attendance two days earlier. The crowd cheered the appearance of President Johnson and Premier Kosygin as the Original Hobo Band played what was reported to be the national anthem of the Soviet Union. 

Taking a moment to rest at the Mullica Hall dormitory, Glassboro State College President Thomas E. Robinson, discussed with the New York Times reporter the possibility of the summit becoming a “really historic conference.”

But that was not destined to happen. The summit merely opened a channel between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The two world leaders said as much following the talks at Hollybush. “We have made further progress in an effort to improve our understanding of each other’s thinking on a number of questions,” Johnson said. Kosygin explained that the summit allowed the two countries to “compare their positions on the questions under discussion, and this, both sides believe, is useful.” 

Afterward, the president and the premier spoke to the crowd that had gathered outside Hollybush. “You good people of Glassboro have done your part to help us make this a significant and historic meeting,” Johnson acknowledged.” Kosygin, too, thanked the town and its residents “for having created a very good atmosphere for the talks…”

But once back at the White House later that day, Johnson was more specific about how much wasn’t accomplished during the weekend, saying, “I must report that no agreement is readily in sight on the Middle Eastern crisis and that our well-known differences over Vietnam continue.” In the coming years, the war in Vietnam would linger as would the unrest in the Middle East and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. 

Several days later, the President addressed a group of Jaycees in Baltimore, receiving cheers for his decision to meet with Kosygin in Glassboro. He explained that he had undertaken the meeting because, as the New York Times reported, “in the family of nations, the two strongest have the greatest responsibilities.” 

Yet, the ongoing protests the nation had been witnessing against the Vietnam War seemed to fester as Johnson’s speech continued and he appealed to his audience not to let recent criticisms bury the accomplishments of his administration. He charged them with returning to their communities with a message: “You say to them that it’s not absolutely essential, it is not a prerequisite, it’s not required that you tear our country down and our flag down in order to lift them up.” 

No immediate solution concerning the Vietnam War had been reached during the Glassboro summit. As a result, according to John A. Farrell’s recent biography Richard Nixon: The Life, “in 1967 the number of American troops in Vietnam soared toward 500,000 and 100 died each week.” 

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