Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the JFK Presidential Library’s Screening of the PBS Film “American Diplomat”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 10, 2022


Thank you so much, Rachel, for that introduction, and thank you to the JFK Library, GBH Boston and American Experience for hosting this preview.

It’s an honor to introduce “The American Diplomat,” a film that tells the stories of Edward R. Dudley, Terence Todman, and Carl Rowan, three Black Ambassadors who broke barriers not just in the State Department, but for our country. When I first joined the foreign service in 1982, Terence Todman was already a phenomenon. In those early days, I was too nervous to even talk to him. He was a living legend to us – and as far as I was concerned, he could’ve been the President. But his counsel, and his example, would prove to be invaluable.

The same was true for Carl Rowan. He had already left the State Department by the time I arrived; he had gone back to pursuing his prestigious career as a journalist. Fortunately, he returned to deliver a lecture to a group of young Black Foreign Service Officers, including me, where I was able to glean his insights. Perhaps the biggest insight of all was simply seeing those giants pave the way.

I felt this personally when I first arrived as Ambassador to Liberia. As I walked into the U.S. Embassy, I was struck by the line of photos of previous ambassadors. There, at the very beginning, was Ambassador Edward R. Dudley. Visually, I could see how he forged a path for us. After him in the line of photos was a string of Black ambassadors. And now here I was, arriving as the first female Ambassador to Liberia.

As you’ll hear in the film, Ambassador Dudley saw that the State Department was restricting the assignments of Black officers to African and Caribbean posts. He pushed back against that policy because he understood the breadth and depth of talent, expertise, and knowledge that Black officers brought to the world stage. By the time I arrived at the Foreign Service, I wanted to serve in Africa. I asked to serve in Africa. And thanks to the leadership of Dudley and so many others, that choice was determined by my passion, not by prejudice.

The history of American diplomacy has been led by Black diplomats determined to make a difference. That includes female Black diplomats too, like Ambassadors Ruth Davis, Barbara Watson, and Aurelia Brazeal, who were pioneers in their own right. I hope somebody makes a movie about them one day too! And just maybe, I’ll be included. These trailblazers and so many others understood a simple concept: racial diversity is America’s strength, not its weakness. It took hard work and the sacrifices of many great Foreign and Civil Service officers and specialists before the State Department and the United States government embraced this powerful principle.

Today, we do. Every day I have the great privilege of sitting behind the United States placard and representing America to the United Nations. And with a diverse team behind me, I am better able to advocate for America’s interests across the globe. So, I hope you enjoy hearing and seeing the unvarnished stories of how these three men helped change the State Department – and in turn, our country and our world.

And now, I am happy to turn it over to President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Pat Harrison. Pat, over to you.