"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Carl Rowan

"We ought not think of this involvement in citizenship only in terms of something somebody would call charitable. . . . If somebody on this campus, a handful of students, said 'You know, I can stop this polarization by getting involved in some organized way in making use of diversity, making diversity work'--that would be a tremendous service." ~ Carl Rowan, quoted in Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Winter 1995

Journalist, cabinet member and ambassador Carl Thomas Rowan was born August 11, 1925 in Ravenscroft, Tennessee. He graduated from high school as valedictorian and class president, briefly attending Tennessee State University where he took part in a training program enabling him to become one of the first African Americans to serve as a commissioned officer in the U. S. Navy during World War II.

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 left government service in 1966 to resume his career in journalism. He wrote a widely read syndicated column for the Chicago Sun-Times until 1998, and appeared as a panelist on Inside Washington. He received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1988, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995, and received the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement in 1999.

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.

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