Notes on Racial Justice and Foreign Relations at the State Department

Notes on Racial Justice and Foreign Relations at the State Department 150 150

Even before the height of the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the struggle for racial justice in the United States deeply affected diplomats and the practice of American diplomacy. Within the State Department, in the mid-20th century African American diplomats faced steep career barriers, often being assigned only to hardship posts in Africa. In 1949, civil right attorney Edward R. Dudley became the first African American to hold the rank of Ambassador. During his tenure, Dudley made great strides to break down these barriers, holding the Department accountable to its own employment policies.

Domestic U.S. racial justice issues also have played out in international relations, as noted in a February 2020 program at NMAD. During this program, Chris Wilson from the National Museum of American History shared information on how the civil rights movement coincided with an increase in diplomatic representation from African countries after they gained independence. Read more about a diplomatic crisis that developed as African diplomats were turned away from services along Route 40, which they took to travel between New York City and Washington, D.C.

If you have more information like this to share with the museum, including artifacts, please do not hesitate to contact us at NMAD@state.gov as we build awareness about this critical time in America.