Photo of the 2nd Foreign Service class graduated under the auspices of the Rogers Act of 1924.
When we began our careers in the 1970s, the Foreign Service was an exclusive club: overwhelmingly white, male and Ivy League-educated, filled with stuffed shirts in striped pants attending swanky cocktail parties.
For decades, you could quite literally count the number of African Americans in the Foreign Service on one hand. Clifton R. Wharton Sr. (whose son, Clifton Jr., later served as deputy secretary of state) became the first black Foreign Service officer in 1924. By 1949, only four more African Americans had joined. Even in 1976, only 4 percent of Foreign Service officers were black. More than a decade after the Civil Rights Act, America was still presenting a face to the world that looked more like a restrictive country club than our multiracial country.
Like Wall Street and the medical and legal professions of the mid-20th century, the diplomatic corps long drew its members from traditionally elite, exclusive institutions, not themselves very diverse at the time. Moreover, college students of color rarely knew that diplomacy was a professional option for them.
That’s changing. Today, our diplomats are more representative. But we haven’t made nearly enough progress…