For a quarter century after World War II, both African-Americans and the Department of State struggled with the issues of race and civil rights. For the former, these matters were of grave concern. Many blacks clearly grasped the notion that international affairs—especially those concerning people of color in underdeveloped nations in Africa and Asia—were inseparably intertwined with their own battles for equal rights and an end to discrimination in America. Thus, their fights against colonialism and apartheid, for example, were seen as merely overseas extensions of the civil rights struggle at home. They also realized quite clearly the damage being done to America's status and prestige around the world by the racial problems dividing the nation. How could the 75 percent of the world's people who are not white ever really trust the United States and its professions of democracy and freedom when the treatment of African-Americans belied those lofty ideals? One way of winning back their trust would be to appoint more blacks to positions in the Department of State and Foreign Service; the unique perspectives provided by African-American diplomats might give those organizations—long decried for their lily-white composition—a new and deeper understanding of the issue of race.
The Department of State and Foreign Service, however, were never comfortable in confronting race as an international problem. Their history, traditions, sense of mission, and personnel make-up made it difficult for them to come to terms with the new significance of race in the world arena. The overall reaction to this development was to treat race and civil rights as propaganda issues, which, if given the proper treatment, would redound to America's favor or, perhaps more hoped for, simply go away. In terms of bringing more of a black presence—and voice—into the halls of the U.S.