Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 23, 2022
Thank you so much, Ambassador Taylor, for that introduction. And thank you to the Board Members of Sister Cities International for inviting me to this special event, where we are highlighting Black History and Diplomacy during Black History Month.
The history of American diplomacy has been led by Black diplomats determined to make a difference. It goes all the way back to Ebenezer Bassett, our country’s first-ever Black chief of a diplomatic mission and a champion of human rights, and Frederick Douglass himself – one of our country’s foremost abolitionists – who served as the U.S. Minister to Haiti.
Since then, we’ve had many outstanding Black Americans who have advanced America’s interests abroad and forged partnerships around the world. One of my heroes, Ralph Bunche, won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to found and shape the institution where I now serve as U.S. Ambassador – the United Nations.
Patricia Roberts Harris became our country’s first Black female Ambassador and went on to serve as a cabinet secretary for two different agencies. Aurelia Brazeal was appointed as an ambassador by three different administrations and led the way for career diplomats like me today. And of course, there’s Ambassador Teddy Taylor, your senior advisor who was Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. This is just a short sampling of the long, rich history of Black diplomats who have shaped American foreign policy and helped better the world.
In order to represent America, we have to reflect America. And while Black American diplomats have made significant advances on this front, the State Department still needs to do more – including by focusing on diversity in hiring and developing the next generation of diplomats.
We also need to support our current Black diplomats better. After all, I do not want to make it all seem like it was all sunshine and roses. It has been a hard-fought struggle, since the beginning, to deploy the talent that Black diplomats have to offer. As just one example, when Ambassador Edward R. Dudley first arrived in Liberia – a country near and dear to my heart – it was striking for him to see how the diplomats there were sometimes treated better than they were back home in America, where Jim Crow made them second-class citizens. That must have been a challenging situation, to put it lightly.
But the freedom Ambassador Dudley and other Black Foreign Service Officers experienced in Liberia inspired him to take action. 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 passions, not by prejudice.
This points to just how impactful the grassroots exchange of ideas and cultures can be – something I know is at the heart of your work at Sister Cities International. Since its founding, Sister Cities International has been building a global and cultural exchange network. You have been using that network to promote peace and understanding – one individual, one community, one city at a time.
Your work – and especially the work of your volunteers – is so important. You are doing the people-to-people diplomacy that undergirds everything we do. In partnership with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, you have paired cities around the world to ensure we advance foreign relations and foster mutual respect and cooperation. This is exactly the kind of citizen diplomacy the world needs.
So, thank you for everything you are doing – and thank you for celebrating Black History Month with me! May the powerful legacy of Black diplomats, citizens and government officials alike, inspire you this month, the next, and for many more to come.