Saluting African American Contributions to Diplomacy

February marks National African American History Month in the United States. To commemorate this month, many academic intuitions around the nation will honor the accomplishments of African Americans and highlight their endeavors in their curricula.  Many students will learn about Frederick Douglas and W.E.B Dubois, historical figures who are well known for their contributions to society, but less known for having served as U.S. diplomats.  In observance of African American History Month, we recognize 10 other individuals who, through the course of time, dedicated their lives to public service and broke barriers to accomplish U.S. diplomatic history.

Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett

Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett: First African American Diplomat

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Ebenezer Bassett as the U.S. Minister to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1869. He was the first African-American to serve as a U.S. diplomat anywhere in the world.

Clifton R. Wharton

Clifton R. Wharton: First African American Foreign Service Officer

In 1925, Clifton R. Wharton became the first African American to enter the Foreign Service after the passage of the 1924 Rogers Act, which consolidated the Department’s Consular and Diplomatic Services. He would be the only African American admitted to the Foreign Service for the next 20 years. 

Edward R. Dudley:  First African American to hold the rank of Ambassador

In 1948, President Truman appointed Edward R. Dudley to the position of United States Envoy Extraordinary and Minister‎ Plenipotentiary to Liberia. In accepting this position he became, the first United States Ambassador to Liberia and the first African American ambassador. Dudley's chief objectives were to implement President Truman's Four Point Plan, which outlined foreign aid to Africa. The plan also sought to provide technical assistance, as well as agricultural and industrial equipment and skills training.

United Nations mediator, Dr. Raph Bunche, sits at his desk at home in photo dated May 11, 1949. [AP Photo]

Ralph Bunche: First African American Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

“The well-being and the hopes of the peoples of the world can never be served until peace -- as well as freedom, honor and self-respect -- is secure.”

Beginning in the 1940s, Ralph Bunche embarked on a career that made him one of the most prominent diplomats in U.S. history. He was a leading advocate of granting independence to colonial regimes around the world.  In 1944, he joined the Department of State as an advisor on the future of colonial territories.  He also advised the U.S. delegation that helped to draft the charter of the United Nations. Bunche joined the United Nations in 1946. He played an important role in the creation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his mediation efforts in the Middle East. He became Under Secretary General of the United Nations in 1968.

Mrs. Edith S. Sampson (right), United States alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, talks with Mrs. Eugenie Anderson on Jan. 30, 1952. [AP File Photo]

Edith S. Sampson: First African American delegate to the United Nations

American diplomat who was appointed by President Harry Truman as an alternate U.S. delegate to the United Nations in August 1950, making her the first African American to officially represent the United States at the United Nations.

U.S. President Jimmy Carter watches as Patricia Roberts Harris is sworn in Washington, DC. Friday, August 3, 1979 [AP Photo/Cook]

Patricia Roberts Harris: First African American woman to serve as an Ambassador

“If my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts can wind up as being part of the system.”

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson chose Patricia Harris to become the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. She was the first African-American woman named as an American envoy. She said, “I feel deeply proud and grateful this President chose me to knock down this barrier, but also a little sad about being the 'first Negro woman' because it implies we were not considered before.” She also served as an alternate delegate to the 21st and 22nd General Assemblies of the United Nations.

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations, Thursday, Nov. 25, 1977, New York, NY. [AP File Photo]

Andrew Young: First African American Ambassador to the United Nations

“In a world where change is inevitable and continuous, the need to achieve that change without violence is essential for survival.”

President Jimmy Carter appointed Andrew Young U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1977. With his help, protection of human rights and economic advancement in underdeveloped countries became objectives of U.S. foreign policy.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses a crowd at an event in Providence, R.I. July 1, 2008 [AP File Photo/ Steve Senne]

Colin L. Powell: First African American Secretary of State

“America is a nation of nations, made up of people from every land, of every race and practicing every faith.  Our diversity is not a source of weakness; it is a source of strength, it is a source of our success.  We are a country of countries, drawing from every country in the world and contributing to every country to the world.”

Colin L. Powell was the first African American to serve as Secretary of State. He was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush on January 20, 2001, after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served for four years, leaving the position on January 26, 2005.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at the State Department.  January 9, 2009. Washington, DC [AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana]

Condoleezza Rice: First African American Woman Secretary of State

“Our work has only begun. In our time we have an historic opportunity to shape a global balance of power that favors freedom and that will therefore deepen and extend the peace. And I use the word power broadly, because even more important than military and indeed economic power is the power of ideas, the power of compassion, and the power of hope.”

Condoleezza Rice was the first African American woman to serve as Secretary of State. She was nominated for Secretary of State by George W. Bush on November 14, 2004, and assumed office on January 26, 2005. She served for four years, leaving the position on January 20, 2009.

British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, left, and American Ambassador Susan Rice vote on a Security Council resolution. New York, NY. January 22, 2013. [AP File Photo]

Susan Rice: First African American Woman Permanent Representative to the United Nations

“Americans understand that our security is enhanced when the United States is trusted and respected in the world.”

Susan Rice served as the first African American woman to serve as Permanent Representative to the United Nations. She served as Ambassador to the United Nations from January 2009 until assuming the role of National Security Advisor in July 2013. At the United Nations, she worked to advance U.S. interests, defend universal values, strengthen the world’s common security and prosperity, and promote respect for human rights.

Interested in learning more about U.S. diplomatic history? Follow the U.S. Diplomacy Center on Twitter and Facebook, as they focus on African Americans and their contributions to U.S. diplomacy throughout the month of February.

About the Author: Ashli Savoy serves as Managing Editor of DipNote.

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