Luring blacks to diplomatic ranks to aid US policy abroad
A new organization, the Association of Black American Ambassadors, has been formed to encourage minority people to enter the nation's foreign service and to help black people better understand America's foreign policy.
''We decided to organize because many of us discovered that we had many common experiences in our work, but we had never shared them . . . because we had never met,'' said their best-known member, Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta, former US ambassador to the United Nations.
The emergence of the new organization - it will seek to include current black ambassadors, too - came as an offshoot of a recent two-day forum in Boston, one of a series of symposiums being sponsored by TransAfrica, which says it is the only US lobby in behalf of the black nations of the world.
American blacks have stood on the sidelines of American foreign affairs, said Willard Johnson, a national board member and head of the Boston chapter of TransAfrica. ''We need more blacks in the trenches, especially when issues involving African and Caribbean nations are involved,'' he said.
More than 20 former black ambassadors participated in Boston activities that included several informal sessions on Reagan policies in African and Caribbean nations.
Being accepted as a bona fide representative of the United States rather than as a token or an apologist is a major task of black people appointed in the past as ambassadors, Mayor Young said.
''Send a black to catch a black!'' was a message he received from a number of African nations, when he took his first international tour as UN ambassador. ''A black ambassador is welcome if he comes with sensitivity,'' he added.
''We were all so delighted to get together, we had to organize,'' explained Donald McHenry, who succeeded Young as UN ambassador.
Walter C. Carrington, a Boston native who was US ambassador to Senegal under President Carter, says the group will organize formally in June. He listed as its probable priorities:
* Encouraging young blacks and other minorities to enter the foreign service.
* Helping American citizens, white and black, to understand problems of the developing nations of Africa and the Caribbean.
* Offering blacks and minorities insight on what American foreign policies seek to accomplish in third-world nations.
* Helping young black diplomats to prepare for upward mobility in the foreign service.
Visiting ambassadors - most are either college professors such as Mr. McHenry or career diplomats - are eager to see more blacks in the State Department.
''I would like to see more families involved in foreign service and overseas duty,'' said Mabel M. Smythe, a professor at Northwestern University and a former ambassador to Cameroon and concurrently to Equatorial Guinea.
She and her late husband, Hugh Smythe, ambassador to Syria in 1965 and Malta in 1967, have the distinction of being the only black couple ever appointed ambassadors. ''The family is very representative of our culture,'' she said. ''It is terribly important (to have families involved) in two ways - (so that) other peoples see the basic unit, the family, of American society, and American young people know that they don't have to give up marriage to have a successful foreign-service career. This type of representation also builds trust in the US and eases suspicion.''
The first three blacks to serve as full US ambassadors were all assigned to Liberia in West Africa - Edward R. Dudley in 1949 by President Harry S. Truman and Jessie D. Locker in 1953 and Richard L. Jones in 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Clifton R. Wharton became the first black to head a United States embassy in Europe when President John F. Kennedy assigned him to Norway in 1961.
TransAfrica lists 40 blacks as ambassadors appointed before the current administration. President Reagan has named seven black ambassadors. Five were new: John A. Burroughs, Malawi; Ronald D. Palmer, Malaysia; Melvin E. Evans, Trinidad and Tobago; Gerald E. Thomas, Guyana; and Howard K. Walker, Togo. Two were reappointed: Terence A. Todman, Spain; and Horace G. Dawson, Botswana.
Mr. Todman has held more assignments than any other black ambassador - Chad, 1969; Guinea, 1972; Costa Rica, 1974, and Spain, 1978 and 1981.
Organized in 1978, TransAfrica has 12 chapters, 10,000 members, and a $500, 000 budget, says Randall Robinson, its executive director.