America’s Black Ambassadors: A HistoricalSnapshot
Since 1949, 149 black Americans haveserved as U.S. ambassadors. Prior to 1949, they had served as official U.S.diplomats as ministers, envoys, Foreign Service officers, or consuls as farback as the mid-nineteenth century. Some historians claim the first blackAmerican diplomat was Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, who was appointed ministerto Haiti by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, but others have suggested itwas William Alexander Leidesdorff, who was appointed viceconsul in Yerba Buena, Mexico, (today’s San Francisco) on October 29, 1845. Basset was appointed by a U.S. president whereas Leidesdorff was appointed by the Tomas O. Larkin, the U.S. consulin Monterey, Mexico. Regardless of whose argument one accepts, or whatinterpretation of a diplomat these instances utilize, it is clear that blackAmericans’ official involvement and leadership as representatives of thecountry in its relations with foreign nations began well before the twentieth century.
No account of black American history inU.S. foreign and diplomatic affairs would be complete without reference tocertain trailblazers like Frederick Douglass, Dr. Ralph Bunch, General CollinPowell, or Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Bunche is perhaps the most prominenttwentieth-century example of this elite class of black diplomatic leaders. Hewon the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in mediating a series ofarmistice agreements between four Arab states (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, andSyria) and Israel. During his career at the United Nations, Dr. Bunche alsoplayed a significant role in mediating several other international conflictsand developing international peacekeeping techniques and policies. Although he neverheld the official title or rank of U.S. ambassador, he certainly positivelyimpacted the road that later black ambassadors would follow.
Since 1893 when the title ofambassador was first officially used in U.S. diplomatic history, there havebeen more than two thousand two hundred Americans who have held this