Global impact: Alumna’s gift to preserve history, legacy of Operation Uganda

Global impact: Alumna’s gift to preserve history, legacy of Operation Uganda

Betty Bowe Castor, a 1963 alumna, was a driving force behind Operation Uganda, a student-led initiative to support Ugandan independence. Through a generous gift, Castor is ensuring that future generations can have a deeper understanding of the world.

Her involvement at then-Glassboro State College gave Betty Bowe Castor a window to the world.

“My time at Glassboro State was transformative,” she said. “I had grown up in Glassboro and had spent relatively very little time beyond its borders. Four years later, I had deep global experiences that shaped my life profoundly.”

While a student, Castor, a 1963 alumna, was a driving force behind Operation Uganda, an initiative to support the education and independence of the people of Uganda…and to foster international goodwill and friendship.

Now, some 60 years after the conclusion of Operation Uganda, Castor has made a $500,000 gift to Rowan University, ensuring that future generations will have a deeper understanding of the world—and their place in it.

Announced last week, Castor’s gift will create the Betty Bowe Castor Endowed History Fund, which will support an annual lecture that will bring to Rowan nationally and internationally renowned scholars who focus on history and humanitarianism in Africa.

Additionally, her gift will support the establishment of the Operation Uganda Digital Collection & Exhibit, an online archive containing historic records that will showcase the educational legacy of Operation Uganda and its important role in teaching the South Jersey region about Africa.

The digital collection eventually will make the history of Operation Uganda accessible to researchers globally…while also sparking larger discussions about Rowan’s global engagement.

Learn more about Operation Uganda in this View story.

‘We decided to dedicate ourselves to proving him wrong’

For Castor, whose storied career includes serving as a teacher in Uganda and the U.S., as Florida’s commissioner of education, as a member of the Florida Legislature, and as president of the University of South Florida, the gift pays homage to where her story began.

The impetus for Operation Uganda came after students in GSC’s International Relations Club met a Soviet official during their trip to New York City and the United Nations at the height of the Cold War. Professor Marius Livingston, an adviser to the International Relations Club, was a tremendous influence on the group, Castor said.

“We met with a Soviet secretary whose rhetoric greatly impacted our group,” recalled Castor. “He suggested that the United States was not up to the challenge of the Soviet Union, especially in appealing to those in the developing world.

“This made a deep impression on our group. We were offended. We decided to dedicate ourselves to proving him wrong.”

Also during their UN trip, the students met with Milton Obote, the first president of the independent nation of Uganda. The group knew his country, which gained independence from the United Kingdom, “would be a good potential place to support with our energy.

“As a college of teachers, we decided that we would support Uganda by helping to create a library, building a schoolhouse, and staff that school with trained teachers from Glassboro State. Operation Uganda became my life.”

Celebrating Ugandan independence in Glassboro and abroad

The initiative gained statewide, national and international attention. Recognizing the students’ work and dedication, Gov. Richard Hughes issued a proclamation noting that the state would celebrate Ugandan independence on Oct. 9, 1962. A celebration at Glassboro State, planned in part by Livingston, included a host of officials. Among them: Hughes, Senators, Congressmen, and 15 African ambassadors. Telegrams were read from President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Altogether, 2,000 people attended the Glassboro celebration, according to news reports. Castor, however, wasn’t there.

“The State Department reached out to Dr. Livingston and said, ‘Would you like to accompany the U.S. former delegation to Uganda?’ And he said, ‘I think it would be better if we had a student.’

“I joined the delegation,” she continued. “So there I was…I’d never been out of the country and I was making the trip on Air Force One with a few diplomats and important people. That was quite an experience for a student who had never left this country to do so on Air Force One.”

As part of the celebration, Castor and Obote made a transoceanic call from Uganda to Glassboro—a major feat in 1962.

“Dr. Robinson, the president, called off classes for the day, but students were encouraged to attend seminars and various conferences with the officials who were here.”

By the spring of 1963, students had collected more than 50,000 books, 250 desks, cabinets for 10 classrooms and $4,000 worth of laboratory equipment for Ugandan schools. Eight students also were poised to teach in Uganda—without pay, according to “100 Years Forward: The History of Rowan University,” published this fall.

But politics, logistics and government bureaucracy intervened. The Ugandan government would not fund the transportation of the books and equipment and, also, did not accept the offers of the students to teach. While 20,000 books were delivered to East Africa by the U.S. Navy, the bulk of the books and goods were donated to needy groups in the U.S.

Castor’s involvement in Uganda continued after she graduated. She was recruited for the Teachers for East Africa program at Teachers College of Columbia University. She spent 18 months teaching in Uganda and was there when the first shipment of Operation Uganda books arrived.

“The books did reach East Africa and they reached Uganda during the time that I was there,” she said.

Castor is proud, she added, of her classmates’ work with Operation Uganda—and excited to see new generations of students learn about its significance through her gift.

‘The legacies of Operation Uganda were profound’

Equally excited is Rowan History Professor Bill Carrigan, who said Operation Uganda paved the way for the 1967 Hollybush Summit between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin at Glassboro’s Hollybush Mansion.

“I want to find archival proof, but I think there is no Hollybush Summit without Operation Uganda,” said Carrigan, who teaches in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences. “It’s an unwritten fact that the governor of New Jersey knew and trusted Glassboro State President (Thomas) Robinson and the mayor of Glassboro. He said, ‘I can trust these people (with the summit).’

“The legacies of Operation Uganda were profound,” added Carrigan, noting that the project also led to the first class in African history taught on campus.

He notes that the digital archive also will be available to social studies teachers who can incorporate the project in their lessons on topics including the Cold War, decolonization, student activism in the 1960s, civic engagement and humanitarianism. Rowan History Professor Jessica Mack will head up the digital archive project.

Back on campus to announce her gift and to attend multiple Centennial events for history alumni organized by Carrigan, Castor announced that she also will establish an endowment in Carrigan’s name to support student scholarships.

She was impressed, she said, by Project 100, a celebration of the history department at Rowan during the institution’s Centennial year. Carrigan interviewed alumni and employees of the department, posting one story each day for 100 days.

“He tried to talk me out of it. Can you imagine?” Castor laughed of Carrigan’s response to her intention to establish the endowment.  “The 100 project was phenomenal.”

Her connection to Glassboro, to the institution, and to Operation Uganda never wavers, Castor said.

“It was a lifechanging event…and the beginning of my deep understanding of the world,” she said of the project. “Nothing connected me in life as much as Operation Uganda.”