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The Department addresses Inequality
Johnson was also a firm believer in civil rights, and his commitment directly affected the Department of State. Lyndon Johnson pushed the Department of State hard to recruit more African-Americans and women, and he made a conscious effort to increase their presence in the upper levels of the Department and its related foreign policy agencies. The Department, reflecting American racial attitudes, offered no meaningful opportunity to African-Americans for most of its existence.
While prominent African-Americans, such as the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, had represented the United States overseas during the 19th century, in reality the only posts open to African-American men were in black nations. Change came no more quickly in the 20th century. The first African-American to enter the Foreign Service was Clifford R. Wharton in 1925. Although he later became the first career diplomat of his race to serve as a chief of mission, his early career was spent mostly in posts traditionally reserved for African-Americans. Wharton remembered telling a personnel officer: “You’re not only discriminating against us in the Service, but you’re exporting discrimination abroad.” Johnson’s greatest success in this campaign was to convince prominent African-American journalist Carl T. Rowan to become Director of the U.S. Information Agency.
The President was also concerned about the status of women because their role at the Department of State had been a limited one. The Department did not employ any women in full-time positions until 1874, and for some time thereafter they were deemed qualified only for clerical duties. In 1905, for example, Assistant Secretary Frederick Van Dyne said: “The greatest obstacle to the employment of women as diplomatic agents is their well known inability to keep a secret.” The first woman to enter the Foreign Service did not do so until 1922, and the first woman ambassador was not appointed until 1933.
President Johnson realized that women had not been given a fair chance in the Department of State and the Foreign Service. Although the number of women in senior positions in the Department increased 33 percent in the 1960s, women still held just 2.5 percent of senior slots. It was not until 1971, when Foreign Service officer Alison Palmer won her gender discrimination case, that the Department finally addressed long-standing problems.