Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

America's Ambassadors of African Descent: A Brief History

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

America's Ambassadors of African Descent: A Brief History

Article excerpt


Throughout their history of fighting for, and pursuing civil and equal rights at home, Black Americans have also made significant contributions to U.S. foreign and diplomatic relations since the middle of the 19th century. There are many historical and editorial accounts found in academic texts, popular magazines, and other print media, that demonstrate these contributions and the history and challenges faced by Black Americans in foreign and diplomatic relations. These texts rebuke common notions that Blacks had little, if any contributions to U.S. foreign and diplomatic affairs, or that those contributions only began in the late 20th century. Johnson (2007) outlines an historical context for Black American contributions, to U.S. foreign policy from the period 1935-44. Krenn (1998) picks up the historical ball and offers a detailed analysis of the roles, challenges, and contributions of Black Americans in the U.S. agency responsible for execution of its foreign and diplomatic affairs--the U.S. Department of State--from 1945 19691. However, this current text--and broader research agenda--is the first to focus fully on providing an historical platform from which to view the role of Black Americans as leaders appointed by the U.S. president to guide the American agenda in countries and international institutions worldwide. In doing so, this text hopes to further the discourse and around Black American contributions to U.S. foreign and diplomatic affairs, and their role as leaders in the same, by focusing on a brief history of Black American U.S. Ambassadors.

With this goal in mind, it is important at the outset to confess what this text is not about, so that it might be read in context. This is not meant to be an article on the foreign policy decisions and actions of the Ambassadors listed herein. It is not meant to analyze their individual or collective impacts on particular foreign policy issues or on U.S. relations with particular countries or regions of the world. It is not designed to analyze how successful or unsuccessful their tenures as U.S. Ambassadors were. Rather, this is an historical text designed to outline the landscape of Black Americans as U.S. Ambassadors, thus setting the stage for future analysis taking a more critical look at their individual and collective influences, impacts, and leadership characteristics.

The data collected for this article was compiled through combing archival and online records of the U.S. Department of State; broad searches for biographical information both online and in print; interviews and informal discussions with several Black American Ambassadors; discussion with individuals at the U.S. Department of State; and from review of available historical and analytical literature. With the reading and analyzing the existing pools of information, several questions about Black Americans who have served as U.S. Ambassador were answered, including: where and when did they serve; what presidents appointed whom, when, and how often; what kind of gender equality was there in ambassadorial appointments; what higher educations have they received and where; and, what were some of their accomplishments and impacts on U.S. engagement with the rest of the world? These are just a few of the questions answered in this attempt to outline the demographic and historical landscape and prompt deeper analysis on Black American leadership exemplified through their role as U.S. Ambassadors.

Black Americans, Foreign Affairs, and Diplomacy

The two professions most associated with official U.S. foreign and diplomatic affairs are the Foreign Service, created by the Rogers Act of 1924 and the position of Secretary of State. Members of the U.S. Foreign Service, known as Foreign Service Officers or FSOs, carry out and execute the U.S. government's foreign policy and aid U.S. citizens abroad. The first Black American to join the Foreign Service was Clifton R. …

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