Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

Gardner Cox (American, 1906-1988)
North American
oil on canvas
Overall: 49 1/2 in x 34 1/2 in; 125.73 cm x 87.63 cm
Signed "Gardner Cox 1964"
Credit Line
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number


David Dean Rusk (1909–1994) was born in Cherokee County, Georgia. He graduated from Davidson College and won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford in England. In 1940, he enlisted in the army, serving in administrative positions in the Department of War and thereafter in several positions in the Department of State. Rusk headed the Rockefeller Foundation until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy appointed him secretary of state.

As secretary, Rusk saw his role as being an adviser. He supported President Kennedy’s 1961 Cuban Bay of Pigs Invasion, although Rusk had misgivings about it, and the attempted overthrow of the island’s communist leadership ended in failure. A believer in “dignified diplomacy,” Rusk worked to establish civility and communication between the United States and the Soviet Union. This helped defuse tensions during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the planned installation of Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba threatened nuclear war. To avoid such incidents in the future, Kennedy and Rusk secured the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty the following year. For the new nations in regions that had been formerly colonized, Rusk argued that providing technical and humanitarian assistance would speed them toward modernity and democracy.

Rusk stayed on in the cabinet after President Kennedy’s assassination. During the Johnson administration his focus was primarily on Vietnam. Believing it was important to stop the spread of communism, Rusk supported the president’s increasing military involvement to prop up South Vietnam in its resistance to incursions by communist North Vietnam. But at home the war grew increasingly unpopular, and Rusk was a target of public criticism. 

Following the end of the John administration, Rusk returned to Georgia to teach international law at the University of Georgia.