U.S. Ambassador Orison Rudolph Aggrey was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, the son of James Emman Kwegyir, an African immigrant who became an American college professor, and Rose Rudolph (Douglass) Aggrey, an African American woman. He earned a B.S. degree from Hampton Institute, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1946, and an M.S. in journalism from Syracuse University (New York) in 1948. After encountering difficulty in obtaining a reporting post with a major white daily newspaper in 1950, he applied for a position with the information and cultural branch of the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. Despite his high scores on the Civil Service entrance examinations, he also encountered difficulty with his application. Aggrey was offered a post only after George L. P. Weaver, who was then assistant Secretary of Labor for international affairs (and one of the most important blacks in the administration of President Harry S. Truman), interceded on his behalf.
Aggreys first assignment took him to Lagos, Nigeria where he was information officer in the U.S. Information Service office. On many occasions Aggrey, the second highest ranking person in the office, actually ran the mission. Ironically, at the same time that Aggrey acquired the Lagos post, he received an offer to join the staff of a Providence, Rhode Island daily newspaper, but he chose to remain in the foreign service.
After two years in Lagos, Aggrey returned to the United States and requested a new assignment in France. In France, he was placed second in command at the U.S. Information Service mission at Lille, in the northern part of the country. Shortly afterward he arrived, the man in charge of the office was transferred to Hanoi, North Vietnam. Again, unexpectedly, Aggrey was left in charge of a foreign mission. During this tenure, however, the head of the Information Service visited the Lille mission, while on a tour of facilities in France. He was so impressed with the interest in U.S. cultural programs which Aggrey had fostered among