The American Diplomat explores the lives and legacies of three African American ambassadors — Edward Dudley, Terence Todman and Carl Rowan — who pushed past historical and institutional racial barriers to reach high-ranking appointments in the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. At the height of the civil rights movement in the United States, the three men were asked to represent the best of American ideals abroad while facing discrimination at home. Oft reputed as “pale, male and Yale,” the U.S. State Department was one of the last federal agencies to desegregate. Through rare archival footage, in-depth oral histories and interviews with family members, colleagues and diplomats, the film paints a portrait of three men who left a lasting impact on the content and character of the Foreign Service and changed American diplomacy forever.
Popcorn and refreshments provided.
A 30-minute Q&A with App State Professor of History Dr. Michael Krenn and the film’s director, Leola Calzolai-Stewart, will follow the film screening.
About the Subjects
Edward R. Dudley (March 11, 1911–February 8, 2005) was the first African-American to hold the rank of Ambassador of the United States. A prominent civil rights lawyer working with Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP, he was appointed by President Truman to represent the U.S. in Liberia in 1949. Rare photos take viewers inside the embassy run by Black Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), overseen by Dudley. Despite the appearance of freedom and autonomy, these talented FSOs were professionally trapped, locked into a collection of only five posts the State Department deemed “appropriate” for Black diplomats — the “Negro Circuit.” Dudley applied his adept legal skills to challenge this insidious system, citing the department’s own policies that made this practice illegal.
Terence Todman (March 13, 1926–August 13, 2014) was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the motto is “Black and free.” He entered the U.S. Army and was stationed in Japan, a critical turning point for his career. Possessing an innate skill in mastering languages, Todman saw how his role as a linguist could help bridge cultural divides. That led to a position in the Foreign Service. Not long after he started at the State Department, he fought to desegregate the Foreign Service Institute’s dining facilities in Virginia — and won. Todman was named Ambassador to Chad in 1969 and would go on to serve in Guinea, Costa Rica, Spain, Denmark and Argentina, becoming the firstAfrican American to achieve the rank of Career Ambassador.
Carl Rowan (August 11, 1925–September 23, 2000), a celebrated journalist known for his work chronicling America’s race relations, was appointed by President Kennedy to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in 1961. His job was to help sell Kennedy’s foreign policy to journalists both at home and abroad. Although Rowan came to regard the State Department as a “virtual plantation” and considered leaving, he accepted the ambassadorship to Finland in 1963, an integral post at a time of intense posturing by the Soviet Union on Finland’s border. Rowan would achieve diplomatic success in Finland, but when Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson called Rowan home to lead the United States Information Agency. The USIA was responsible for fighting Russia in the global war of ideas. Rowan’s job was to protect America’s image. He described his task this way: “My task is difficult. On the one hand, I am a Negro with a fierce determination to see that my children escape the degrading shackles of racism. On the other hand, I am a public official, whose job it is to help protect this country’s reputation abroad.”
About the Q&A Participants
Leola Calzolai-Stewart (Director) is co-founder of the Virginia-based production company, FLOWSTATE Films. She led the creative team on The American Diplomat and has also lived in the diplomatic world for 18 years, an experience that enriches her approach to the storytelling in this film. Leola co-produced and edited the feature documentary, The Last Song Before the War, distributed by Kino Smith, and also edited the feature documentary Dear Walmart, which premiered in May 2019. The American Diplomat is Leola’s directorial debut and was awarded two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a development grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Leola is a Firelight Doc Lab Fellow for 2019-2021. The project was also selected as part of Black Public Media’s 2019 360 Incubator+ program.
Michael Krenn is a professor of history at Appalachian State University and the author of Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-1969, the book that inspired The American Diplomat.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.