African-American Ambassadors

As challenging as it is for anyone to become and serve as Ambassador for the United States, the hurdles are even greater for black Americans who must overcome domestic and international discrimination to achieve high-ranking positions. These Americans have served as representatives of the United States in over 40 Countries during the past 60 years. Despite their systemic disadvantage, many of these ambassadors have amassed some of the most impressive achievements in diplomatic history:  Terence Todman served as ambassador to 6 different countries, making him one of the most decorated career ambassadors in U.S. history; Arlene Render was a pioneering voice during the Rwandan Genocide, advocating American aid to the war torn nation; and Edward Dudley, the first African-American U.S. ambassador, served in Liberia more than a decade before the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Read short summaries of African-American ambassadors below, and read their oral histories for in-depth documentation of their lives and careers.

 

Samuel Clifford Adams, Jr. served as ambassador to Niger from 1968-1969 and received the Distinguished Honor Award in 1972. Read his complete Oral history HERE.

 

 

 

Rudolph Aggrey Served as ambassador to Senegal and The Gambia in 1973-1977, and the ambassador to Romania in 1977-1981. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

Leslie M. Alexander served as ambassador to Mauritius from 1993-1996 and ambassador to Ecuador from 1996-1999. He then served as ambassador to Haiti from 1999-2000 before his retirement in 2000. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

Shirley Elisabeth Barnes served as ambassador to Madagascar from 1998-2001. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Aurelia E. Brazeal was the first African-American woman to be appointed ambassador by three different presidential administrations. She served as ambassador to Micronesia from 1989-1992, ambassador to Kenya from 1993-1996 and ambassador to Ethiopia from 2002-2005. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Theodore R. Britton, Jr. served as ambassador to Barbados and Grenada from 1974-1977. Read both of his oral histories HERE and HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

John A. Burroughs served as ambassador to Malawi from 1981-1984 and ambassador to Uganda from 1988-1991. Read his oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Carrington served as ambassador to Senegal from 1980-1981. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

William Beverly Carter served as ambassador to Tanzania from 1972-1975 and ambassador to Liberia from 1976-1979. He then became the first African-American to be appointed a U.S. Ambassador-at-Large, a position he served in from 1979-1981. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Will Mercer Cook served as ambassador to Niger from 1961-1964, and as ambassador to Senegal and the Gambia from 1965-1966. Cook was the first American Ambassador to Gambia. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

Horace G. Dawson served as ambassador to Botswana from 1979-1982. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Edward R. Dudley, Jr. was the first African-American to serve as ambassador for the United States. First a civil rights activist, he served as ambassador to Liberia from 1949-1952. Read both of Dudley’s oral histories HERE and HERE.

 

 

 

Harriet L. Elam-Thomas served as ambassador to Senegal from 2000-2002. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

Richard K. Fox served as ambassador to Trinidad and tobago form 1977-1979. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

Ulric Haynes, Jr. served as ambassador to Algeria from 1977-1981. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Jerome K. Holloway served in Shanghai, China, from 1950-1957.

 

 

 

 

John M Jones served as ambassador to Guyana from 2008-2009. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

William B Jones served as ambassador to Haiti from 1977-1980. Read his oral history HERE and HERE.

 

 

 

 

Mosina H Jordan Served as ambassador to the Central African Republic from 1995 until the embassy’s closure in 1977. She continues to serve with USAID. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

Kenton W Keith served as ambassador to Qatar from 1992-1995 and has been awarded two presidential service awards. Read his oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Wilbert J LeMelle served as ambassador to Kenya from 1977-1980. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

Arthur W Lewis served in war torn Ethiopia in the 1970s before being appointed ambassador to Sierra Leone in 1983. He served until 1986. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

Donald F McHenry served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1979-1981. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Charles J Nelson served in Botswana as ambassador to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland from 1971-1974. Read the full oral history HERE and HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Ronald D Palmer served as ambassador to Togo from 1976-1978, ambassador to Malaysia from 1981-1983, and ambassador to Mauritius from 1986-1989. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cynthia S Perry served as ambassador to Sierra Leone from 1986-1989 and ambassador to Burundi from 1989-1993. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

Charles A Ray served as ambassador to Cambodia from 2002-2005 and as diplomat in residence in Houston, Texas from 2005-2006. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arlene Render served as ambassador to the Gambia, Zambia and the Ivory Coast from 1990-1993. She was director of the Office of Central African Affairs during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and became a key player in encouraging American aid efforts. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

Joseph Segars served as ambassador to Cape Verde from 1993-1996. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Mattie R Sharpless served as ambassador to the Central African Republic from 2001-2003. Read her full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Elliot Percival Skinner served as ambassador to the republic of Upper Volta from 1966-1969. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Mabel Murphy Smythe, at one point a wife to the ambassador to Syria Hugh Smythe, later became ambassador to Cameroon from 1977-1980 and ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1979-1980. Read both of her Oral histories HERE and HERE.

 

 

 

Leonard Spearman served as ambassador to Rwanda from 1988-1990 and ambassador to Lesotho from 1991-1993. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George M Staples served as ambassador to Rwanda from 1998-2001 and as ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea from 2001-2004. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Terence A Todman served as ambassador to 6 different nations, making him one of the U.S.’s most prestigious career ambassadors. He served in Chad from 1969-1972, in Guinea from 1972-1974, in Costa rica from 1974-1977, in Spain from 1978-1983, in Denmark from 1983-1989, and in Argentina from 1989-1993. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

Howard K Walker served as ambassador to Togo from 1982-1984 and ambassador to Madagascar from 1989-1992. Read his full oral history HERE.

 

 

 

 

Johnny Young served as ambassador to Sierra Leone from 1989-1992, ambassador to Togo from 1994-1997, ambassador to Bahrain from 1997-2001, and ambassador to Slovenia from 2001-2004. Read his full oral history HERE.