Edward Dudley was the first black American to lead a U.S. Mission abroad with the rank of Ambassador. Dudley was born on March 11, 1911 in South Boston, Virginia to Edward Richard and Nellie (Johnson) Dudley. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1932, Dudley briefly taught in a one-room Virginia school. He later moved to Washington, D.C., and enrolled in Howard University’s dentistry program. After deciding dentistry was not for him, Dudley moved to New York City, New York, eventually enrolling at St. John’s University where he earned a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree in 1941. While at St. John’s he served on its prestigious Law Review.
After law school Dudley entered private practice and became active in local civil rights activities. In 1942 he was appointed to the New York Attorney General’s Office, where he served until he was recruited the following year by Thurgood Marshall, the Chief Legal Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to become a Special Assistant Counsel. Dudley served in that capacity between 1943 and 1945. While there he wrote briefs and prepared civil rights cases for trial. In 1945, Dudley became the Legal Counsel to the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He served Governor Charles Harwood until 1946 and then served William Hastie, the first African American appointed Governor of a U.S. Territory, until 1948.
In 1948, President Harry Truman sent Dudley to Liberia as U.S. Envoy and Minister. Upon elevation of the Mission in Liberia to a full U.S. Embassy, Dudley was promoted to the rank of Ambassador in May of 1949. With that, Ambassador Dudley became the first black Ambassador in U.S. history. This also made him the highest ranking diplomat, often referred to as the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
While in Liberia, Ambassador Dudley led U.S. government efforts to promote a strong commercial environment. He also continued his civil rights efforts,