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Tue, Sept. 27 at 7pm – American Experience: The American Diplomat

President John F. Kennedy meets with newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Finland, Carl T. Rowan (right). West Wing Colonnade, White House, Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
PBS Pressroom
President John F. Kennedy meets with newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Finland, Carl T. Rowan (right). West Wing Colonnade, White House, Washington, D.C.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: THE AMERICAN DIPLOMAT explores the lives and legacies of three African American ambassadors — Edward R. 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, they were asked to represent the best of American ideals abroad while facing discrimination at home.

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 created a lasting impact on the content and character of the Foreign Service and changed American diplomacy forever.

Tune in Tue, Sept. 27 at 7pm on the WSIU stations: WSIU 8.1, WUSI 16.1, WSEC 14.1, WQEC 27.1 and WMEC 22.2 or access the WSIU local broadcast livestream online at pbs.org or via the PBS Video app. Watch with WSIU Passport.

About the Program
On March 12, 1947, President Harry Truman declared in a speech to Congress that the United States would protect democracy and freedom around the world. At the same time, Americans grappled with widespread racial violence and segregation at home. As the Cold War escalated, so did the Soviet Union’s use of racially violent imagery and propaganda to turn the world’s non-aligned (and largely non-white) nations against the U.S. The appointment of Black ambassadors to the historically white and historically elitist State Department would be an important step in changing America’s face to the world. Each ambassador — Dudley, Todman and Rowan — would harness the opportunity to serve at the highest levels of U.S. diplomacy to bring America closer to its own ideals.

Learn more about the subject of the film:

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 first African 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.”

With over a decade of experience in public media, Stackhouse serves as the Assistant Director of Digital Services for WSIU Public Broadcasting. The Digital Service department supports the promotion of the station’s digital content and services including social media, web-based membership services and activities, and marketing and communications. Stackhouse's professional goals include creating an inclusive environment where media students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale can gain experience and professional development opportunities in various aspects of the broadcasting industry.
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