Today we honor and celebrate Edward R. Dudley, the first African-American to serve as an Ambassador for the United States. He was born in 1911 in South Boston, VA, and received a B.S. from Johnson C. Smith College. After an abortive year studying dentistry, he left the South and moved to New York City. He worked odd jobs (including serving as a stage manager for Orson Welles) and then entered law school, receiving his degree in 1941. He practiced law and worked in political circles, including an appointment as Assistant New York State Attorney General.
He also worked for social justice, joining the NAACP’s legal team in 1943. As an assistant special counsel, he wrote briefs and prepared cases seeking the admission of black students to Southern colleges, equal pay for black teachers, and an end to discrimination in public transportation. President Harry Truman appointed him Minister to Liberia in 1948 and then Ambassador in 1949. After serving four years, he returned to the U.S. where he returned to the NAACP, directing their Freedom Fund. He was also appointed a justice on the Domestic Relations Court by the Mayor of New York. He continued his political engagement, serving in a number of capacities and running as a Democrat for New York Attorney General (but losing to the white, Republican candidate). His final position came when he was elected to the New York Supreme Court, where he served from 1965 until his retirement in 1985. He died in 2005.
Let us remember this quiet civil servant who constantly pushed against the color barrier and achieved great success; let us also remember that color barrier still exists and we are all obligated to push against it!