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PBS profiles Roanoke native and first Black American ambassador

Edward Dudley
Edward Dudley, a native of Roanoke, was appointed by President Truman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia.

American Diplomat tells the story of three Black ambassadors who demanded equal treatment for those who represented the U.S. abroad. Among them was Roanoke native Edward Dudley, a 37-year-old lawyer with the NAACP. Appointed by President Truman, he was this country’s first African-American ambassador, sent to Liberia – one of just five places the state department deemed appropriate for Black diplomats.

H revealed that in Liberia the Black foreign service officers had never had the opportunity of serving anyplace else in the world, despite the fact that it was a state department policy to rotate officers every two years.

Instead, says historian Carol Anderson, they were confined to what was quietly called The Negro Circuit.

“They put them in places where there were already Black people," she explains. "It makes it really hard to do the work of America when you know that you have been Jim Crowed by your own government.”

So Dudley produced a memo documenting the situation and confronted a high-level state department official in Washington.

“Within six months a transfer came through," he recalled. "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.”

Others were assigned to Zurich and Rome, putting an end to the state department’s reputation for hiring only from elite circles – choosing candidates who were said to be pale, male and from Yale.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.