This Day In History: August 11th
Journalist and diplomat Carl Thomas Rowan rose to popularity during the 1950s as a commentator on race relations in America. Over the course of his career, Rowan won the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi medallion three years in a row.
Rowan was born on August 11, 1925, in Ravenscroft, Tennessee. He grew up poor in a small coal-mining town during the Great Depression but managed to save up enough money from working at a hospital to attend Tennessee State University. He enrolled in a program that allowed him to join and serve as an officer in the Navy during World War II.
After returning from the war, Rowan finished his college experience at Oberlin College in 1947 and earned his master’s degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota in 1948. He took a job at the Minneapolis Tribune working as a copy editor. Rowan covered stories pertaining to civil rights in the South. He even covered the landmark Supreme Court ruling to desegregate schools and worked abroad as a correspondent during the war over the Suez Canal in the Middle East.
His consistent coverage of racial issues made him an outspoken and powerful voice of the black community. Rowan’s reporting eventually caught the attention of President John F. Kennedy which led to the beginning of his career in government. He was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state before serving as a delegate to the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rowan continued his work in government as an ambassador to Finland and then director of the United States Information Agency in 1964. This position made him the highest-ranked African-American in government at the time.
Rowan made his return to journalism in 1965 and started a syndicated newspaper column that was published three days a week. In addition to the column, Rowan also provided radio and television commentary on topics pertaining to race relations in America. He is the author of several books including, Wait Till Next Year: The Life Story of Jackie Robinson (1960), Breaking Barriers: A Memoir (1991) and Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall (1994).
Aside from his success in public affairs and journalism, Rowan also founded Project Excellence in 1987. Project Excellence was created to provide college scholarships to African-American high school students in Washington, D.C. The program awarded more than $20 million in scholarships and showed his commitment to his community.
Carl Rowan died on September 23, 2000.