Examples of Excellence

From among the legions of outstanding diplomats who have served the United States since the middle of the 20th century, the following 25 individuals were chosen to exemplify the highest standards of the profession. The list is by no means intended to be exhaustive, or to suggest that others are not equally, if not more, deserving of such attention.


Clifton R. Wharton (1899-1990)

Clifton Wharton's career included many firsts as well as nearly four decades of distinguished service. Joining the State Department in 1925, he became the first African American Foreign Service officer to enter after passage of the 1924 Rogers Act, which consolidated the Department’s Consular and Diplomatic Services. (Three long-serving African American consular officers automatically became FSOs at that time.) Wharton would be the only African American hired for the next 20 years, until 1945. Rather than being sent to mainstream posts, he served during that span in Liberia, the Canary Islands (an 11-year assignment) and Madagascar, respectively. He was then sent to the Azores from 1945 to 1949. In 1949, he was made a career minister and was sent to Portugal as consul general. He subsequently became consul general to Marseilles, France in 1953. In 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him as minister to Romania, making him the first African American diplomat to head a U.S. mission in a European country, and in 1961 President John F. Kennedy sent him to Norway as the first African American career officer to become an ambassador. When he retired in 1964, Wharton was deeply respected throughout the State Department, where he was known as a highly skillful, understanding and tactful diplomat who had successfully overcome great personal hardships in the first decades of his career. In May 2006 he was honored with a stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

  • Potter, Joan. African American Firsts: Famous, Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America. New York: Kensington Publishing Co., 2002.
  • Krenn, Michael L. Black Diplomacy. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.