Claudia Anyaso: Connecting People
These exchange programs work outside of our official relationships and policy relationships. These people to-people relationships are very effective.”
HerDiplomacy at NMAD
This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of U.S. women gaining the right to vote after decades of struggle, protest, and lobbying of state and federal governments. The right to vote was a vital step forward for women’s fuller participation in government and civil society. This participation also paved the way for increasing numbers of American women to serve their country in diplomatic capacities, representing their country at home and abroad.
With the #HerDiplomacy campaign, the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) is celebrating women in diplomacy — women who have blazed trails, negotiated peace, served alongside their partners, strengthened diplomatic relations, survived dangers, and opened doors for sharing of cultures and ideas. They have made vital contributions to our nation, but their stories remain largely unknown. Discover some of these dedicated women during Women’s History Month and throughout the year.
As a member of both the U.S. Department of State’s Civil Service and Foreign Service, Claudia Anyaso connected people across the globe as a public diplomacy officer and expert on exchange programs for over 40 years.
Anyaso grew up in humble circumstances in the 1940s and 1950s in a segregated suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. She and her cousins were part of a vanguard of students selected to begin school integration efforts during her junior high years. As an undergraduate at Morgan State University from 1962 to 1966, Anyaso became very active in the civil rights movements of the time. She joined with fellow students in several protests against a local segregated shopping plaza.
The confrontations over the segregated shopping plaza grew to the point where Anyaso and her classmates were arrested and sent to a local “lock up,” as she described it. After the next protest, they were sent to the city jail. And finally, after a third protest, they were sent to the state penitentiary pending a hearing. According to Anyaso, the police thought that they could stop the protests by putting them in increasingly harsh conditions after each arrest. Anyaso recalled, “We didn’t stop demonstrating. And they kept upping the ante.” Throughout these events, her parents were supportive. When her father came to the jail seeking her release, Anyaso told him that she would stay until public accommodations in Baltimore were completely desegregated. He accepted her decision.
We have to do this, we really have to do this. If we don’t do it now it may never be done.”
–Claudia Anyaso as a college student explaining to her parents why she was protesting.
While at Morgan State, Anyaso also served as a campus representative to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a grassroots organization designed to give young people a voice and a place of leadership in the national civil rights movement. She traveled to Gadsden, Alabama, as a representative for SNCC to work on voter registration issues as well as school desegregation efforts. While in Alabama, she was again arrested and jailed for a few weeks. It was during this time with SNCC that she met and worked with future national civil rights leaders including Julian Bond, John Lewis, and Ella Baker.
Upon graduation from Morgan State, Anyaso received a prestigious scholarship from the Ford Foundation that funded her graduate studies at American University’s School of International Service. The scholarship program was administered by Howard University, in cooperation with the State Department, to prepare more minority students for careers in foreign affairs. The program was called the Foreign Affairs Scholars Program and was a forerunner to current programs that help recruit minority students for careers at the Department of State.
In 1968, Anyaso began working in the Department of State’s Intelligence and Research Bureau as a foreign affairs analyst. She was recruited and mentored by Idris Rossell, a foreign service officer who took special interest in the role of women and minorities in foreign affairs and was well-known for her work in the Foreign Affairs Scholars Program. Anyaso began her career at the Department of State by researching decolonization movements occurring across Africa.
Blacks could work in the mailroom and they could work in reproduction, making copies and things like that with a college degree…For women, as long as you were doing a staff job somewhere they didn’t really think of you.”
— Anyaso reflecting upon the status of black and female employees at the Department of State in the late 1960s.
Anyaso soon became active in efforts to form employee advocacy groups for women as well as African Americans at the Department of State. She supported the efforts of the Women’s Action Organization, formed in 1970. She also was a founding member of the Thursday Luncheon Group (TLG), a group that continues to advocate for broader and more equitable participation and promotion of African Americans at the Department of State.
Throughout her career, Anyaso’s creative and activist spirit propelled her forward in a variety of roles at the Department of State as she worked on exchanges and public diplomacy-related initiatives. Anyaso consistently sought opportunities to learn and grow in new positions within the State Department. She transferred to the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs to work on exchange programs, which included supporting a task force that implemented the first student exchanges between the U.S. and China in 1978 as relations between the two countries were normalizing.
Having come out of the civil rights movement, I was very interested in… what was going on in the society.”
–Claudia Anyaso reflecting upon her first overseas tour in Nigeria.
After several years of working on exchanges from a domestic position, focusing on the Middle East and Asia, Anyaso turned her efforts back toward Africa and working overseas. She inquired with the Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs and was offered an opportunity to take a Foreign Service excursion tour to Lagos, Nigeria, as the cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate’s cultural center. Temporary excursion tours were available to civil servants at the Department of State for overseas positions that were empty and needed to be filled.
During this excursion tour from 1984-1988, Anyaso had the opportunity to experience the type of work required of a foreign service officer, which included re-energizing the cultural center by engaging with students and teachers, presenting books to libraries, meeting with judicial officials, supporting local artists, and bringing American musicians to Nigeria for programs and concerts. She found the work very fulfilling and ultimately took the exam to become a full-time foreign service officer.
Anyaso soon became an expert in the practice of public diplomacy — connecting people from all sectors of society in countries in which she served with Americans in order to exchange knowledge, build relations, and showcase talent. Between 1988 and 2009, Anyaso served in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Niamey, Niger; twice as the public affairs officer at U.S. Embassy Abuja, Nigeria; and in leadership positions back at the Department of State and at the Pentagon.
The events of September 11, 2001, affected much of Anyaso’s work during the final years of her career. She was posted at the Pentagon on this tragic day as part of a Department of Defense-Department of State professional exchange position with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering East Africa political and military planning issues. She happened to be working in the opposite side of the building that was hit and did not feel the impact. Anyaso recalled, however, that the scent of jet fuel was evident in the entire building for many weeks following the attack.
Returning overseas in 2002, Anyaso led public diplomacy efforts in Nigeria to counter misinterpretations about the United States’ stance towards Muslims. She frequently met with cultural counterparts as well as newspaper editors to try to correct rumors and explain the United States’ official position on events that may have inflamed local Muslim populations. Under her direction, the embassy’s public affairs section distributed foreign-language publications that highlighted people, places, and events in the United States and that also promoted U.S.-Nigeria academic and professional exchanges.
Anyaso finished her Foreign Service career in Washington DC, serving as the office director for Public Affairs and Diplomacy in the Bureau of African Affairs from 2006 to 2009. She applied her vast experience as a public diplomacy practitioner to bureau-wide efforts to build prosperous, secure, and mutually beneficial relations between the United States and the diverse people of all of Africa.
In retirement, Anyaso donated two artifacts to the collection of the National Museum of American Diplomacy that vividly capture the thrust of her career — people-to-people connections through exchanges. In her role as public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, she served on nominating committees for the Fulbright Program. This prestigious and competitive program funds research, study, and teaching opportunities for scholars both in the United States and abroad. Nigerian Fulbright participants formed an alumni association in 2000 in order to build a professional network that promotes the goals of the program and applies their skills and knowledge to issues affecting their country. This leather briefcase was given to participants of the alumni association’s 2006 conference. The conference was held in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria, a region noted for its leather goods.
A group of Nigerian Humphrey Fellows from the Port Harcourt region gave Anyaso a personalized gift that is emblematic of their unique indigenous culture. The quiver has wording and symbols embroidered in beads and has wooden arrows inserted inside the pouch. The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program offers professional development and non-degree graduate-level study opportunities in the United States for accomplished professionals in several countries. In Nigeria, Anyaso served on nominating committees and supported the Humphrey Fellows alumni association, promoting the benefits and importance of this exchange opportunity for Nigerian citizens.
Reflecting on both her college years and 41 year career, Anyaso said, “You know, once you become an activist, you’re an activist.” As both a civil servant and foreign service officer, the skills she honed during her experiences fighting for civil rights for U.S. citizens translated well to her efforts to connect people in many parts of the world with educational and cultural exchange opportunities in the United States. These connections not only increased the diversity of program participants, but also assisted greatly in breaking down barriers to international mutual understanding.