After the war Rowan attended Oberlin College where he had trained while in the Navy, graduating in 1947 with a degree in mathematics. The next year he earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and worked on two African American weekly newspapers, the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Register. He was soon hired by the Minneapolis Tribune as a copywriter, becoming a staff writer in 1950, extensively covering the Civil Rights Movement. A series of columns exploring racial issues led to his first book, South of Freedom, published in 1952, and he became the only journalist to win three Sigma Delta Chi awards in a row from 1954 to 1956.
Rowan was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs by President Kennedy in 1961, overseeing news coverage of military involvement in Vietnam. He was part of the negotiating team that secured the exchange of pilot Francis Gary Powers and served as a delegate to the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1963 he was appointed Ambassador to Finland, and in 1964 was named Director of the U. S. Intelligence Agency, thus becoming the first African American to be on the National Security Council.
|With President Lyndon B. Johnson|
Rowan founded Project Excellence in 1987 to provide college scholarships for African American youth in the Washington DC area who excel in writing and speaking. The organization has awarded $76 million to almost 3000 students. He died in Washington DC on September 23, 2000 at the age of 75.