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Keith, Kenton Wesley (1939- )

On May 26, 1992, career diplomat Kenton Wesley Keith was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as U.S. ambassador to Qatar.  After U.S. Senate confirmation, Keith arrived in Ad-Dawhah (Doha), the capital of Qatar and presented his credentials on September 2, 1992.  He served until July 17, 1995 and in doing so, became the first African American ambassador on the Arabian Peninsula.

Kenton Wesley Keith was born on November 12, 1939 in Kansas City, Missouri, to Jimmy and Gertrude Keith, a jazz musician and singer/civil servant, respectively.  He attended racially segregated Lincoln High School in Kansas City. His interest in international politics began with his watching the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. 

Attending the University of Kansas (KU) intensified that interest as he came in contact for the first time with numerous international students.  Keith was inspired to get a B.A. degree in International Relations and French in 1961. He also successfully completed KU’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program and upon graduation became a Lieutenant (junior grade) in the U.S. Navy.

Keith served in the Navy from 1961 to 1965 and was briefly stationed as an advisor in South Vietnam. In 1965 he resigned his Navy commission and joined the United States Information Agency (USIA). His first assignment (1965-1966) was Beirut, Lebanon where he learned Arabic.  He was subsequently stationed in Iraq, 1966-1967, and Saudi Arabia, 1967-1968.  By this point Keith was considered a specialist in the Middle East and was assigned as the USIA Public Affairs/Cultural Affairs Officer in Turkey, Morocco, and Syria between 1968 and 1977.

Returning to the United States in 1977, the year USIA transferred most of its cultural affairs responsibilities to the U.S. State Department, Keith transferred to the State Department.  From 1977 to 1980 and again from 1983 to 1985 he reported directly to the Deputy Director for Middle East Affairs. Between 1983 and 1985 he was again overseas serving as Deputy Public

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