♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: In the fall of 1948, a young African American lawyer and his wife crossed an ocean to begin a new job.
Edward R. Dudley had just been named the United States Minister to the West African nation of Liberia.
EDWARD R. DUDLEY: As the boat docked on that very bright morning, two of us were standing at the rail, we saw thousands of people.
It was rather an exhilarating experience.
♪ ♪ We could see the new frontiers opening up.
NARRATOR: It was a time of titanic struggles between competing ideologies: communism versus capitalism; white supremacy versus Black liberation; colonialism versus self-rule.
A racially segregated United States was positioning itself as the leader of a mostly non-white world.
(Castro speaking Spanish) ROBESON TAJ FRAZIER: It's difficult for us to fully conceptualize what it meant to be Black in spaces of government during that time period.
Then to have to represent U.S. interests and help cultivate the narrative of U.S. democracy for non-U.S. publics.
NARRATOR: In the decades to come, three Black diplomats-- Edward R. Dudley, Terence Todman, and Carl Rowan-- would challenge the foundations of American diplomacy and try to change the way America represented itself to the world.
CARL ROWAN: Sure, we're going to be criticized.
It's because we're talking about the things that the United States stands for, the things that the United States seeks to be.
NARRATOR: They would challenge not only the State Department, but U.S. foreign policy itself.
DUDLEY: Washington got accustomed to my taking strong independent stands because the United States had a revolution for our independence, and we should be supportive of independence.
NARRATOR: These three diplomats would also challenge an unequal system that had long determined who should represent America overseas.
DUDLEY: If one was an ambassador, there was a feeling that this man was a true representative of a country.
ANDERSON: For diplomats, you're fighting America so that it can live up to what it says it is, while you're also fighting for America.
That is no easy walk.
♪ ♪ (applause) NARRATOR: On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman articulated a policy that would come to be known as the Truman Doctrine.
♪ ♪ HARRY S. TRUMAN: At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life.
If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world, and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation.
NARRATOR: This was the cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the idea that undemocratic regimes anywhere were a threat to freedom everywhere.
Truman promised that the United States would do everything in its power to stop the spread of communism in any nation in the world.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Already an iron curtain had dropped around Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria-- menace to the security and institutions of democratic government.
This truly a war of ideas.
NARRATOR: The post-war world was now a chessboard in a high-stakes match between democracy and communism.
The United States and the Soviet Union battled to win the hearts and minds of neutral nations all over the globe.
(man shouting indistinctly) ADRIANE LENTZ-SMITH: In nations that are becoming independent, how do they maneuver in a world in which the U.S. and the Soviet Union have demanded that people choose sides?
At the heart of the Cold War were struggles over narrative.
♪ ♪ The Achilles heel for the United States is its history of racialized violence, oppression, and injustice against people of color in the United States and elsewhere.
MARY DUDZIAK: How the United States treated its own citizens mattered diplomatically in a way that it hadn't before.
♪ ♪ CAROL ANDERSON: Black veterans were coming back from the Second World War, and they were demanding the democracy that they had fought so hard for.
There were a series of horrific lynchings in 1946.
♪ ♪ and Truman is just absolutely horrified.
Truman understood that if the U.S. wanted the world to believe them when they said that they were offering a democracy that would benefit all, then they needed to show that they could offer that democracy at home.
NARRATOR: In 1948, President Truman made a bold step: he issued executive orders to desegregate the military and the civil service.
With a tough re-election looming, he looked to strengthen his ties to the African American community.
When the post of Minister to Liberia became available, Truman's team asked Walter White, the head of the N.A.A.C.P., the nation's most influential civil rights organization, to recommend a candidate.
White suggested a sharp N.A.A.C.P.
lawyer, Edward R. Dudley.
At 37, Edward Dudley of Roanoke, Virginia, had already had a storied career.
♪ ♪ DUDLEY: I was 23 years old.
I came to New York, bright, fresh, full of vinegar.
I applied for a job as an assistant stage manager at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem.
(cheers and applause) Orson Welles came to work with us and directed a Haitian Macbeth.
Lay on, Macduff!
And damn'd be he who first cries, "Hold, enough!"
(stage fighting, yelling) DUDLEY: I saw no real future in New York theaters.
Stagehands were not permitted to work below 125th Street.
♪ ♪ So I decided to go to law school.
NARRATOR: In 1943, Thurgood Marshall, the head of the N.A.A.C.P.
's Legal Defense Fund, hired Dudley to assist with his strategy of dismantling inequality one case at a time.
For five years, the two men crossed the country, filing, and winning, anti-discrimination lawsuits.
But now, President Truman was asking Edward Dudley to be the face of America in Liberia.
♪ ♪ DUDLEY: In Liberia, the staff at the legation welcomed us.
Shortly thereafter, we engaged in the task of diplomacy.
We get in touch with the other members of the diplomatic corps.
There's a parade, view the troops.
This is big diggins in small countries.
And all of a sudden, you're catapulted into this kind of thing.
And then you do the best you can.
EDWARD DUDLEY, JR.: My father was a risk taker.
I was six when I first joined them in Liberia.
My mother did most of the raising.
(children speaking indistinctly) My father was the disciplinarian.
He was a very confident man.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Like all political appointees, Dudley served at the pleasure of the president.
(cheering) With the 1948 presidential election only a few months away and Truman trailing badly in the polls, Dudley believed his time in Liberia would be short-lived.
DUDLEY: And we woke up and Harry Truman was the president.
Rather than stay a few months in Africa, we stayed five years.
NARRATOR: Dudley's staff included a small community of African American diplomats.
Some had been in Liberia for years, and experienced more freedom there than they could have in the segregated United States.
(croquet mallet thwacks ball) ♪ ♪ They shared a commitment to institution-building and felt pride in the knowledge that they were a part of a pivotal moment in history in a rapidly changing Africa.
A vital American ally in World War II, Liberia had provided critical rubber supplies and the site for a military base.
But now, American attention had shifted toward African countries on the brink of independence-- nations whose loyalties in the Cold War hung in the balance.
Dudley faced a delicate task.
BRENDA GAYLE PLUMMER: President Tubman felt Liberia was being neglected and is not getting the kind of foreign assistance that it deserved.
So Dudley's representing the United States when that traditional relationship is beginning to shift.
NARRATOR: To underscore Liberia's importance as an ally, the United States elevated the status of the American Legation to an Embassy-- a shift that made Dudley a pioneer for Black diplomats.
DUDLEY: I became the first ambassador of color from the United States.
♪ ♪ Ambassador, being the highest diplomatic rank in Liberia, this mantle fell upon my shoulders.
MICHAEL KRENN: When he was raised to the ambassadorial level, he was not simply going to push papers and have photo ops, he wanted to do things in Liberia.
♪ ♪ There was heavy U.S. investment in the country.
Firestone and other American companies that were there considered themselves almost as invaders that conquered pieces of land and used them as they wished.
NARRATOR: Ambassador Dudley's task was to balance American interests with Liberian progress.
The key was an initiative called Point Four.
(newsreel music playing) NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of the Gold Coast, arrives in Liberia.
A portion of his visit is spent surveying Point Four activity in Liberia.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Point Four was President Truman's ambitious international aid program.
It sent American expertise, money, and supplies to developing nations, demonstrating the considerable benefits of being an American ally.
♪ ♪ DUDLEY, JR.: My father dove into this.
We're going to help them with bridges, with roads, with health, education.
My father could see the results and to see the change.
♪ ♪ ANDERSON: The significance of Edward Dudley being the first African American ambassador is huge.
It is part of the struggle of the recognition of merit.
NARRATOR: It had taken the United States 160 years.
(bell clanging) The State Department was created in 1789.
Its diplomats, appointed by presidents, had always been the face of America in foreign lands.
Yet the State Department had a very limited vision of who should represent America to the world.
KRENN: During Reconstruction, there were a few African Americans appointed as diplomats.
In 1869, Ebenezer Bassett was the first African American diplomat.
He was sent as a minister to Haiti.
Frederick Douglass was appointed to that same position.
So there were opportunities, but they were very, very small opportunities.
PLUMMER: The State Department had the well-deserved reputation of being extremely elitist.
It was the bailiwick of Boston Brahmins.
Pale, male, and Yale.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: After World War I, Congress attempted to professionalize the diplomatic corps.
KRENN: The Rogers Act, 1924, set up the Foreign Service exam that had to be taken by every candidate.
It was supposed to set up a merit-based system.
NARRATOR: The legislation seemed to be a revolution in the making.
In theory, anyone who passed the rigorous test could join the Foreign Service.
And in 1925, a law clerk named Clifton Wharton easily passed the written exam.
KRENN: So there was this wide assumption that he was white.
And then he came for the oral part of his exam, and was very hastily sent off to Liberia.
They didn't even send him to the Foreign Service school for training.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Only four more African Americans were accepted into the diplomatic corps over the next 25 years.
KRENN: The chairman of Foreign Service personnel, Joseph Grew, stated very clearly that African Americans, women, Jewish Americans would be quietly, but effectively, excluded.
Even if they passed through the written exam, they would be shuffled away through the oral examination.
MAN: As Foreign Service Officers, you are sample Americans, and many people abroad will think better or worse, of the United States because of what you do.
(applause) ♪ ♪ DUDLEY: I used to come back to Washington, in a circle with nothing but white people, and I'd be introduced as ambassador to Liberia.
And none of them would ever hear that because they would turn to me and ask me, "How do you like our country?"
talking about America.
The fact of the matter was, they could never conceive that a Black man could ever be an ambassador.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Dudley's sense of doing good work in Liberia was soon tempered by the reality for African American diplomats.
He realized they were stuck in an international loop that was limiting their professional growth and their ability to advance.
DUDLEY: In Liberia, the Black Foreign Service Officers had never had the opportunity of serving anywhere else in the world, despite the fact that it was a State Department policy to rotate officers every two years, none had ever gotten outside of a little triumvirate called Monrovia, Ponta Delgado, and Madagascar.
And this had been going on for year after year, after year.
ANDERSON: The State Department had what they called the Negro Circuit.
They put them in places where there were already Black people.
and Dudley looked at a system that had been in place for decades and said, "No."
♪ ♪ DUDLEY: We put together a memorandum documenting every Black in the Foreign Service over a long period of years.
♪ ♪ When they came into the service, how long they had been in, and the fact that they had never been transferred.
We added a class of white Foreign Service Officers.
In every instance, they had had four, five, and six transfers, and had been in different posts throughout the world.
♪ ♪ You had these Foreign Service Officers-- well-trained, highly educated-- being placed simply in the Negro Circuit.
It makes it really hard to do the work of America when you know that you have been Jim Crowed by your own government.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The former lawyer quickly saw that the Negro Circuit directly violated the Foreign Service Act of 1946.
It was a law whose central purpose was to make the Foreign Service stronger and more efficient.
But with Truman pushing for desegregation, the Act also stated a goal of "eliminating conditions favorable to inbred prejudice and caste spirit."
DUDLEY: My entire background had been with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
And I knew exactly what to do.
I asked for an audience with the Undersecretary of State, John Peurifoy, and sat in his office while he read it.
And he was visibly disturbed, and asked me what I was going to do with it.
I indicated that it was his responsibility to correct an unwholesome situation, but in my judgment, an illegal situation.
Within six months, transfers came through and the number one Foreign Service Officer was sent to Paris, France.
And this is the first time that a Black Foreign Service Officer had ever served in Europe.
A second Foreign Service Officer was sent to Zurich, Switzerland.
And a young lady of great talent was sent to Rome, Italy.
(cheers and applause) NARRATOR: In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president.
Eisenhower was a war hero, not a career politician.
Raised in Kansas, he came from a world where segregation was the law of the land.
LENTZ-SMITH: His State Department is hostile, certainly, to decolonizing nations and uninterested in any kind of meaningful African American diplomatic service.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Eisenhower's election meant Dudley's time as ambassador was over.
Before the new administration took office, Dudley officially documented his strong objection to maintaining the status quo in his resignation letter.
He argued, "Black Foreign Service Officers must have equal opportunity for assignments worldwide."
The Negro Circuit had to end.
He made a Cold War argument that I'm not asking you just as a moral imperative.
You've got to do good for these three-quarters of the world's people who are looking at America to see whether it will live up to its promise of democracy and freedom.
And here's a way to do it.
NARRATOR: In 1953, Dudley left the State Department, returning to the N.A.A.C.P.
and the wider struggle for Civil Rights in America.
♪ ♪ In the early 1950s, the United States rode a wave of prosperity.
But while the country was locked into a brutal war in Korea, the nation also agonized over the Soviet threat of nuclear devastation, (siren blaring) and a growing fear of communism within America.
(plane engines droning) NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Holidays, vacation time, we must be ready to do the right thing if the atomic bomb explodes.
Duck and cover!
(explosion) NARRATOR: Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin sensationally claimed that hundreds of communist spies had infiltrated the State Department.
JOSEPH MCCARTHY: Plans have been discussed by the Soviet secret police to obtain blank American passports from communists employed in the State Department.
NARRATOR: American government agencies and showboating Congressmen falsely linked civil rights organizations with communism.
For aspiring Black diplomats, this created yet another barrier to a career in the State Department.
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said none of these Negroes can get through with "lily white" clearance.
ANDERSON: Think about what that is really saying.
It's saying that Black folks can't be trusted with American democracy.
So we can't have them in our mainline bureaucracies doing the work of America.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: One ambitious young man refused to be deterred.
In 1952, a 26-year-old from the U.S. Virgin Islands named Terence Todman passed a written federal service exam, and was offered a job at the State Department.
But then he arrived for his first day of work.
TERENCE TODMAN: The head of personnel said that we note your accent isn't a hundred percent American, and we can't afford to have anyone in the Foreign Service who isn't immediately identifiable as American.
JAMES DANDRIDGE: The accent wasn't the defining reason.
That was the expressed reason.
The real reason is you... you're Black.
You are not really fully American.
NARRATOR: But Todman persisted.
He argued his case up the ladder to the head of the office.
TODMAN: Ambassador Whitman said, there's a great deal of work to be done in this office.
We cannot afford to hire a "showpiece."
I said, "Sir, if your job was a showpiece, I wouldn't want it.
I think too highly of myself to take a job like that."
And he said, "Okay, we'll take you on."
♪ ♪ DORIS TODMAN: Terence was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Race was not an issue.
Just being raised in the Virgin Islands, it sort of gave you a sense of who you are.
♪ ♪ He grew up very poor.
We were in the same class.
He's quite bossy, by the way.
He was very, very smart.
I remember my great-grandmother saying, "That young man, whoever he is, is going places."
NARRATOR: In 1945, at age 19, Todman had been drafted into the Army.
He took the officer's candidate exam in Spanish and English, and passed both.
Then he was shipped out to Japan, where he discovered his calling.
TODMAN: I learned to speak Japanese, and I spoke to my fellow officers and heard the misconceptions they had about the Japanese.
And I would tell them what the Japanese were like.
And speaking to the Japanese, the misconceptions they had about Americans (chuckling): were so great, that I found myself telling the Japanese about Americans.
And I realized that a lot of difficulties arose from people not knowing about each other.
And that became critical to my thinking about what I would do afterwards.
This was the eye-opening experience that propelled his interests into Foreign Service.
If he could be as successful as a communicator in the military, why not seek an opportunity to apply those skills as a diplomat?
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Terence Todman began as a Foreign Service desk officer in Washington D.C., monitoring U.S. relations with three Asian nations.
From the beginning, his colleagues didn't know what to make of his presence.
TODMAN: When they came to speak to the Nepal desk officer, they'd walk in, see me behind a desk, and wonder, what are you doing there?
There'd be real amazement, just to the idea of an African American in an officer position.
DORIS TODMAN: Being a diplomatic wife was a full-time job.
There was so much work dealing with three countries, India, Ceylon, and Nepal.
He'd bring the newspapers home for me to read.
I would underline what was important and give him a briefing.
I was a part of it.
NARRATOR: Todman's first overseas assignment was India.
But first, he had to take language training in Hindustani at the Foreign Service Institute.
This was Virginia in 1957, where segregation was legal.
TODMAN: My first day, the white officers went across the street into a restaurant.
And I was not allowed to go there because Black Americans couldn't go into their restaurants.
So I went to the State Department and said, "This can't go."
State Department said, "These are Virginia laws, "a lot of people have come here and haven't said anything about it."
And I said, "Well, I'm not other people, and you're doing something that's not right."
DANDRIDGE: And he said to the Department of State, "You have a problem.
"I don't have a problem.
This is not about me."
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Todman later said, "I was considered a troublemaker, and that was all right."
KRENN: Todman knew that institutional culture wasn't going to change on its own.
It was going to change by being confronted, by being embarrassed.
And he kept up such a firestorm of protest that eventually the Department of State rented half of the restaurant.
There finally was a desegregated cafeteria for Foreign Service Officers.
NARRATOR: While Terence Todman was confronting racism inside the State Department, the U.S. government was confronting a Soviet information campaign focused on highlighting America's racial violence.
A large part of the Cold War was a battle of public relations.
Which side would be better at selling itself?
(horns honking) To counter Soviet propaganda worldwide, Eisenhower created the United States Information Agency, the U.S.I.A.
NICHOLAS CULL: As a one-stop shop for American foreign policy information, U.S.I.A.
has an astonishing range of outlets.
It had Voice of America radio.
(speaking non-English languages) CULL: It had libraries.
It gets U.S.I.A.
material in front of millions of people and is a tremendous part of how the United States is perceived in the world.
NARRATOR: The crucial audiences for the American message were countries that hadn't taken sides in the Cold War, the non-aligned nations.
Terence Todman was sent to the most important neutral nation of all-- India.
BRENDA GAYLE PLUMMER: India had been one of the countries most critical of the United States' race relations.
It was a country that was independent of the Soviets.
It was a very influential country.
Indian opinion was important.
NARRATOR: As the Todman family looked to India for their first overseas posting, the eyes of the world were focused on Little Rock, Arkansas.
♪ ♪ (crowd clamoring) PLUMMER: One of the interesting aspects of the Civil Rights controversies of the late '50s was they were televised.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Little Rock, Arkansas.
The white population are determined to prevent colored students from going to the school their own children attend.
PLUMMER: This was one of the first times in U.S. history when racial violence could be seen all over the world.
ANDERSON: You've got nine Black honor students, just trying to go to school, just trying to get an education.
We see white mobs, angry mobs, trying to get at the kids.
(crowd shouting) MARY DUDZIAK: The "Times of India" tracked it day by day.
Race was undermining the ability of the United States to appeal to emerging new nations.
And it raised questions-- "Why should we be your ally when you treat people who look like me this way?"
NARRATOR: The governor of Arkansas sent in the National Guard to block the Black students and keep the school segregated.
For three weeks, the president of the United States did nothing at all.
ANDERSON: The Soviets were all on top of the explosion at Little Rock.
You see the frustration in the administration, in the State Department, calling it propaganda.
It is a way for them to strip it of its truth.
It's not propaganda if it's true.
Our enemies are gloating over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent our whole nation.
Little Rock will return to its normal habits of peace and order.
Thus will be restored the image of America and of all its parts.
(crowd clamoring) LENTZ-SMITH: Eisenhower deploys federal troops.
He ultimately does it for these questions of American credibility in international coverage, not because it's the right thing to do.
NARRATOR: As America continued to reveal its faults to the world, it was a frustrating time for Terence Todman to be a Foreign Service Officer abroad.
"We were putting out a lot of information, which no one paid any attention to," he would later say.
"If we assigned a couple of Black officers "to positions in those embassies, "their very presence, as Black Americans in official positions, would tell the story far better."
And for Doris Todman, it was difficult to be overseas watching the Civil Rights struggle unfold half a world away.
DORIS TODMAN: Well, I would say, "Why am I here?
I should be out there marching," you know.
And he said, "Look, we serve a purpose, too.
We're showing what America could be."
DANDRIDGE: He was concerned that we represent the truth and not painting over of American culture and society.
He had a job to do, to represent the United States of America, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And if it was ugly, he said it's ugly.
(crowd clamoring) NARRATOR: By the late 1950s, people throughout Asia and Africa were fighting for self-determination against colonial powers.
But Eisenhower failed to see a connection between liberation movements in Africa and civil rights in America.
He saw action against colonial governments as communist-inspired.
LENTZ-SMITH: Deeply embedded in U.S. values in the 1950s was an understanding of white people at the top of a heap of worth and capability, and Black people, Asians, you know, Indigenous people controlling their own destinies, would mean chaos and upheaval, is deeply rooted in racialized understandings of who has the capacity for self-government.
TODMAN: While serving on U.S. delegations, I noticed the United States going along with what the British and French were doing in dragging their feet and not keeping up to their sacred trust of bringing these countries to self-government.
And I kept insisting that the U.S. policy should be in keeping with our own history and our own principles, and that we should not be going along with what these colonial powers were doing.
KRENN: Todman represented the sort of young lions coming in, confronting this idea within the State Department that the real experts on Africa are the old colonialists.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: In 1960, liberation movements in Asia and Africa were transforming global politics.
That year alone, 17 African nations won their struggle for independence.
Eisenhower left office in 1961, just as the movement for civil rights at home was growing stronger by the year.
In his winning campaign, John F. Kennedy had promised to support both civil rights and African independence.
KENNEDY: The great battleground for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the whole southern half of the globe-- Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, the lands of the rising people.
NARRATOR: But for all his rhetoric, the new president mainly focused on one problem-- stopping the expansion of communist power.
Now he looked for someone he could trust to communicate his policies to the world.
Oh, New Year's Day of 1961, I was lying in bed in Pasadena waiting for the Rose Bowl game to start, when I got a telephone call asking if I'd come down to Washington as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
Wow, that must've been an exciting call.
Well, it, uh... there were a lot of days during those four-and-a-half years when I wished I'd never gotten the call.
(audience laughter) NARRATOR: By the time he received that call, Carl Rowan was already a nationally known journalist.
During the 1960 campaign, he'd written a series of articles for a Republican-owned newspaper on Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy that Kennedy found surprisingly fair.
Six months later, the new president offered the young journalist the job of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
Carl Rowan would communicate Kennedy's policies to journalists around the world.
JEFFREY ROWAN: He wanted his voice to be heard.
He wanted a seat at the table in both domestic and international policy making.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The appointment made Rowan the highest-ranking African American official in the State Department.
It was a remarkable accomplishment, especially for someone who'd grown up in a family of five in a small house with no electricity in McMinnville, Tennessee.
ROWAN: His mother was a cleaner for houses and his dad really didn't bring in a consistent income.
That led to squabbles between his parents.
Those were very difficult times for him.
NARRATOR: From the beginning, Carl Rowan was driven to succeed.
He was valedictorian of his high school class, and went to Tennessee State University.
Then he became one of the first African American officers in the history of the U.S. Navy.
But when he came back home to Tennessee, he was still a second class citizen.
♪ ♪ He decided to become a journalist.
He would tell the ugly truth about racism in the South.
ROWAN: In 1948, I got a job with the "Minneapolis Tribune" at a time when very few daily newspapers were hiring Negroes as writers.
In 1951, I suggested to the editors that we had a responsibility to tell the people of this state something about the Negro citizens of this nation.
NARRATOR: The 18-part series called "How Far From Slavery?"
was a sensation, and made Rowan's career.
KRENN: Rowan portrayed the racial problems in a very specific way.
That really all we're talking about are a few Southern states, these holdouts, who don't really agree with the vast majority of Americans.
ROBESON TAJ FRAZIER: He had a viewpoint that working class people, when given opportunity, can participate in ideals of American citizenship.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: In 1954, Rowan took his idea of the American dream overseas to India, as part of a lecture series sponsored by the State Department.
FRAZIER: Part of the agenda is for him to represent someone who has been able to uproot themselves from abject poverty.
He's there to represent possibilities of life in the United States.
It perpetuates the kind of dominant U.S. ethos of individualism, which completely negates the reality that Rowan was an anomaly.
NARRATOR: One evening, an Indian journalist introduced Rowan as an "excellent propagandist for America," saying, "We are all interested in how a man "with a Black skin, who has been unable to know freedom, can talk so learnedly about a free society."
It was an uncomfortable moment, and it reconstructed Rowan's view of the world.
KRENN: Rowan believed that these attacks were communist inspired.
That's what he was facing-- misconceptions, lies, distorted stories.
NARRATOR: "I was not a State Department lackey," Rowan would later write.
"I simply went from Darjeeling, to Patna, to Cuttack, "to Madras, saying good things about my country "because I believed that the society that had given me "a break was in the process of taking great strides toward racial justice."
LENTZ-SMITH: The first word for him is "patriot."
And that's a complicated thing for a Black man to be in the mid-1950s.
So he is critical of the U.S., but he also sees promise, he believes that American democracy would be good for the world, and for decolonizing nations.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Rowan became friendly with Vice President Lyndon Johnson on a 1961 trip through Asia, including Vietnam, where the U.S. was already becoming entangled in a war.
♪ ♪ Their friendship fueled Rowan's ambition, but it led to frustration, as well.
"I suppose it's natural that "anyone who travels with and advises a vice president would develop some sense of self-esteem," he later wrote.
"I took on a sense of self-importance that "had nothing to do with reality.
I forgot," he wrote, "that I was just another Negro."
FRAZIER: He describes the State Department as a virtual plantation.
It's very much a kind of white male culture.
And this is a space that he is forced to make sense of.
He does push for more, you know, people of color, Black people, to be hired.
ROWAN: The fact that I'd come in as the first deputy assistant secretary, we launched a mighty campaign to integrate the Foreign Service to the point that it looked reasonably like the population of the United States.
NARRATOR: But the pace of change was slow.
After two years, Rowan was ready to leave the department.
Instead, Kennedy offered him an ambassadorship to Finland, and Rowan took it.
AURELIA BRAZEAL: The currency of diplomacy is optimism.
You have to be optimistic as a diplomat.
And that leads to seeing issues as opportunities.
♪ ♪ REPORTER: And now you're here and we hope that you will like to stay here with us.
I know we're going to enjoy it immensely.
And we look forward to seeing all of this country and as many of Finland's people as possible.
ROWAN: The Finns did magazine articles galore.
I remember one in one of the big Finnish magazines, the most colorful ambassador in Finland.
(laughs) They were talking about the unorthodox style that I brought to the job, in the sense of traveling more than any American had before, and going out bowling with the Finnish people.
♪ ♪ JEFFREY ROWAN: People would walk up to us and stare, but it wasn't a kind of racist staring.
They were just curious because they had never really seen people of color before.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: For Rowan, being a Black ambassador in Finland had a subtext.
He wrote, "I could belie the notion that my country was hopelessly racist."
Rowan said, "My coming to Finland would "hasten the day when American Negroes are playing the role they ought to play in our Foreign Service."
Finland was a critical country for a president preoccupied with drawing the line against Communism.
The Soviet Union loomed large on Finland's border.
Ambassador Rowan was now on the frontlines of the Cold War.
KRENN: Finland was a hotspot.
Finland was seen as sort of a nation on the fence in the Cold War.
This was a nation we really had to curry their favor.
We know the Soviets were also trying to curry their favor.
(explosion) NARRATOR: The U.S. and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other many times over.
Kennedy urged the world's leaders to sign a partial test ban, and Kennedy's directive to Rowan was clear-- persuade Finland's president, Urho Kekkonen, to support an international treaty.
KENNEDY: Let us call a truce to terror.
The logical place to begin is a treaty assuring the end of nuclear tests of all kinds, in every environment.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Rowan succeeded in getting Kekkonen to join the effort.
This was his greatest accomplishment as an ambassador.
But his stay was cut short-- on November 22, 1963.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: In winter's darkness, all men await the new president's guidance.
His cabinet puts before him a Congress deadlocked in debate, the torment of a nation on the edge of racial clash.
With steadying certainty, Lyndon Johnson takes over.
NARRATOR: When Lyndon Johnson became president, he entered office with an ambitious civil rights agenda.
The first step would be to appoint African Americans to high office.
I, Carl T. Rowan, do solemnly swear... NARRATOR: He named Rowan the director of the United States Information Agency.
That I will support... IRVIN HICKS JR: The fact that here is a very accomplished African American who has been put into this position and has the confidence of the president of the United States, it was a major fanfare as I was growing up in African American publications, because it was unprecedented.
NARRATOR: But it wasn't easy to be head of the U.S.I.A.
in the 1960s.
America's racial unrest intensified, while the country spiraled deeper into what many viewed as an unjust war.
It was Rowan's job to protect America's image overseas, a position that often put him at odds with civil rights leaders.
ANDERSON: Carl Rowan, I would say, played it too close to the vest.
There is an insurgency in the Black community.
And so the kind of quiet, patient gradualism isn't playing to that insurgency.
♪ ♪ KRENN: It was a difficult time to be a representative of a country that still kept most of your fellow African Americans in second-class citizenship.
Well, which United States do they represent?
Do they represent the United States that they are supposed to represent, as the paragon of freedom, democracy, and justice, or do they represent the America which is a segregated, divided, and sometimes racially violent society?
(shouting, clamoring) NARRATOR: As the debacle in Vietnam consumed LBJ, Rowan felt increasingly cut out of the decision-making process.
His relationship with the president deteriorated.
In 1965, Rowan resigned.
BRAZEAL: There were people I knew who did resign.
As a country, we lost their talent.
We lost their thinking on policy issues.
It's hard to quantify what you've lost, but you do lose that voice at the table.
LENTZ-SMITH: It's easy to enter an institution and think you're going to change it.
But if it's just you or just a few of you, how do you keep in mind the purpose that you entered with and how do you fulfill that purpose?
NARRATOR: Both Carl Rowan and Edward R. Dudley returned to illustrious careers outside diplomacy.
(indistinct chatter, flashbulbs popping) But Terence Todman dedicated his life to the Foreign Service.
In 1989, the State Department honored him with the rank of Career Ambassador, the first African American diplomat to receive that distinction.
He served as an ambassador for 23 years, learned six languages, and held six ambassadorial positions.
HICKS: That means that on six occasions, Ambassador Todman received Senate confirmation.
On six occasions, you had the confidence of the president of the United States.
That is-- that is highly unique.
♪ ♪ DORIS TODMAN: We felt we were proving a point because we had penetrated an impenetrable area in America, in diplomacy.
We felt that was important.
KRENN: If we look at the late 1940s with Edward Dudley, moving on through Terence Todman, moving up to the career of Carl Rowan and beyond, the question of progress, it's a difficult one.
Has there been progress?
There has been progress.
But it's been an uphill battle.
The folks who are in these bureaucracies, which are often very hostile places, slowly chipping away at the structures of inequality, the structures that suppress merit, that just see your Blackness and not your brilliance, to have those folks quietly doing that work, this is that kind of institutional systemic work that creates change.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: Next time, she shot to stardom... MAN: She never missed.
ANNOUNCER: ...and became an American icon.
WOMAN: There's never been anybody like Annie Oakley.
WOMAN: This sweet person, but with this big-bang gun.
(gun fires) ANNOUNCER: But at the height of her popularity, scandal threatened to bring her down.
"Annie Oakley," next time on "American Experience."
Made possible in part by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
"American Experience: The American Diplomat" is available with PBS Passport and on Amazon Prime Video.
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