“Like the captain who hates the sea, I hate traveling despite the fact that I have spent most of my adult life in work involving constant movement, and frequent change of residence.” This statement, written by William Bulluck King on 13 April 1954, gives readers a glimpse into his life. From covering World War II to embassy attachments around the world through the United States Information Agency, King spent over half of his sixty-two years traveling overseas.
Three and three-quarters linear feet consisting of articles, correspondence, photographic images, financial information and other papers relate to the life and career of William Bulluck King. The collection includes awards, information relating to his 1947 book, The Balkans: Frontier of Two Worlds, biographical information, audio recordings, papers concerning organizations of which he was a member, diaries, items relating to his tenure as a World War II Associated Press correspondent, and other writings. Correspondence is comprised primarily of letters from wife Fay written during and after their World War II courtship and letters to his mother written in 1948-1949, 1956-1959, and 1963-1971. Letters from William to Fay are found in the South Caroliniana Library’s auxiliary collection of the papers of William Bulluck King and Fay Cornelia Ball King. Present here also is information pertaining to such organizations as Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired; Foreign Service Association; Overseas Press Club; Savile Club; Sigma Delta Chi; and the Sullivan’s Island Beach Club.
William Bulluck King was born 3 August 1911 in Florence, S.C., the youngest child of Richard Casey (1878-1938) and Margaret E. Rives King (1880-1981). A news article dated 27 February 1967 describes the “first time we saw Bill was at a statewide religious youth conference in his hometown, Florence. One of the featured adult speakers delivered a ringing denunciation of ballroom dancing. Bill, then a high school boy, took issue with him and turned the convocation into a hassle over whether it was evil to trip the light fantastic.” King graduated from Florence (now McClenaghan) High School in 1929 and majored in journalism at the University of South Carolina. On 31 August 1932 he married Frances Guignard Gibbes Keith (1913-2001), daughter of USC professor Oscar Lovell Keith (1882-1935) and writer Frances Guignard Gibbes (1870-1948). In 1934 King left USC to become a reporter for the Columbia Record. King joined the staff of the Associated Press in Columbia, S.C., the following January and was assigned to cover the state legislature. He was named Columbia bureau chief of the Associated Press in 1938. In 1940 he and Frances were divorced, and King moved to New York to join that city’s cable department of the Associated Press.
King was sent overseas as a foreign correspondent in December 1940. He traveled extensively, covering the war from Bern, Madrid, London, North Africa—a diary covers his time aboard a ship sailing to North Africa for the November 1942 Allied invasion of that area, where he landed with the first wave of troops—Ankara, Rome, Athens, Belgrade, and Sofia. A 30 July 1944 article in the Roanoke Times quotes King’s lament over the censorship prevalent in war-time Europe. “In Spain,” he wrote, “ I was not permitted to cable a story until it first appeared in the official news agency. In Turkey I laid myself open to arrest as a spy for attempting to report an occurrence taking place in a restricted frontier zone. Even in liberal Switzerland and Eire I was not allowed to report fully on certain political developments.” In 1946 King covered the trial of Gen. Draja Mihailovich in Belgrade after Marshal Tito won control of Yugoslavia. That August he returned to America and on 20 September 1946 married Fay Cornelia Ball, the daughter of Charleston News and Courier editor William Watts Ball and Fay Witte Ball. The following year King severed his connection with the Associated Press and published a book with Frank O’Brien entitled The Balkans: Frontier of Two Worlds. For the next two years he tried without success to make it as a free lance writer in New York City. In 1949 he was appointed head of European Public Relations for UNICEF, with headquarters in Paris. Of this experience he would later write, “For sheer inanity the United Nations—at least those portions to which I was exposed—topped them all.”
King joined the United States Information Agency in 1951 for what would become a twenty-year career. On applying for the USIA job, King wrote in his autobiographical sketch—“Weeks, even months, passed by while my ‘processing’ continued. It included a detailed security check which upset my family which had always suspected I would come to no good end and that herds of investigators were gathering evidence that would make that fear reality.” King’s book on the Balkans foreshadows his own lifelong career with the USIA, emphasizing that “the deployment of ideas can be as strategically important as the development of men and weapons.” In his capacity as Information Officer, he was responsible for introducing American culture and ideas into foreign countries, particularly those threatened by Communism.
His first assignment was in the Balkans, an area he described in his book as “a schizophrenic area of badly mixed peoples on mostly poor though strategically located land.” Subsequent overseas assignments took him to New Delhi, India; Baghdad, Iraq; and Karachi, Pakistan. An extensive collection of color slides documents his travels to these and other areas of the world. Although his photographs give the impression of an inspired world traveler, King seemed apathetic about his fellow man—“A man who feels as I do that mankind began to decline when he discovered the wheel cannot be a propa[ga]ndist for the American way of life.” Yet, at the same time he was fervently anti-Communist, stating in a Florence Morning News article of 15 May 1967 that “Communism in any form is an expanding system that has to be stopped.” In the opening chapter of his book King elaborates on his view of Communism as “basically a philosophy of wrath and regimentation, openly preaching and practicing the doctrine that the majority of people do not know what is good for them and must be led, pushed, bullied, or even tortured into a happy future.” It was these opinions that guided King in his USIA career.
His first assignment was as Press Officer for the United States Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. There he had charge of the information service’s library, news bulletins, and other literature available to the Yugoslavs. While these duties sound innocuous enough, the purposes of the USIA often led King into confrontations with local communists, as on 12 June 1953, when he received a paper entitled “Mr. King, we have had enough of your propaganda” from the board of editors of Timok. It stated, in part— “Mr. King and other people from the American reading-room want to tell us how this which is ours has no value at all, while this which is theirs is very valuable and worthy of attention, that being American one should admire it, that it should be accepted, copied, transplanted into our ground. This propaganda is opium, Mr. King. It aims to kill the love of their country among our people, to kill the feeling of the national pride and honor....We do not doubt, Mr. King, that you have successfully survived MacCarthy’s purge and that you are qualified as agitator and propagandist. But still, please stop it.” That October he was injured in rioting by Yugoslavians protesting the Anglo-American decision to turn over Trieste to Italy. Shortly afterwards he returned to the United States on home leave.
King was reassigned in February 1954 as the Public Affairs Officer for the United States Embassy in New Delhi. The following year he was promoted to Chief Information Officer there, but he returned to America in the summer of 1956 and was stationed in Washington, D.C., as Foreign Affairs Officer for the Near East and South Asia, a capacity in which he functioned until 1958. During this time he served on Congressman James P. Richards’ mission to the Middle East to advance the Eisenhower Doctrine, a trip well documented in letters to his mother throughout 1957. From 1958 to 1959 King served as Public Affairs Officer for the American Embassy in Baghdad. He was given the USIA Superior Service Award for his work during the internal unrest there in 1958 when the embassy was invaded by angry mobs, for “protection of the United States at personal risk and under arduous conditions.” While slightly injured, King was credited with maintaining the safety of all USIA employees and their families. However, his work in Iraq was cut short by the overthrow of that country’s monarchy in 1959. His next assignment was as a member of the USIA Overseas Inspection Corps, from 1959 to 1960. King served as Assistant Director for Near East and South Asia in Washington, D.C., from 1960 to 1963. Later in 1963 he was appointed Counselor of Embassy for Public Affairs in Karachi. He served in the same capacity in London from 1965 to 1969. Prior to retiring from the USIA in 1971 King worked in Washington, D.C., as an ombudsman.
In 1972 King and his wife retired to South Carolina. Two diaries cover his short time in Charleston, a city he found foreign in many ways. On one of his first Sundays there he wrote— “at 12:20 went with Fay to Harts for drink. Cocktail invitations for, ostensibly, after church seems to be Charleston institution. Borrowing term from British Navy I like to think of it as ‘thirst after righteousness.’ I haven’t yet tried out the expression in Charleston. I’m not sure how it would be received. I am disappointed in the number of stand-about parties in Charleston. I got my belly full in the foreign service.” King died on 1 October 1973 and is buried in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery.