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|Carl T. Rowan
ambassador, government official, journalist
Carl Thomas Rowan was born in Ravenscroft, Tennessee, on August 11, 1925, and grew up in McMinnville, Tennessee. His father, Thomas, stacked lumber for construction, and his mother, Johnnie, cleaned houses, cooked, and did laundry for wealthier families. One of Carl's teachers encouraged him to read and write as much as possible, and even went to the library for him because, as a black person, Rowan wasn't allowed to check out books for himself. The encouragement paid off, as he graduated at the top of his high school class.
By doing odd jobs, Rowan saved enough money to enroll in Tennessee State College. He was a student there when the United States entered World War II, and he subsequently became one of the first 20 blacks to serve as officers in the Navy, as a communications officer on a tanker in the Atlantic.
After the war Rowan used the GI Bill to attend Oberlin (Ohio) College, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics degree in 1947. He earned his Master of Arts in Journalism degree from the University of Minnesota in 1948, and became a copy editor at the Minneapolis Tribune that same year. He became a full-fledged reporter in 1950, when the Tribune sent him to cover Southern response to the U.S. Supreme Court's desegregation ruling. As a foreign correspondent for the Tribune, Rowan covered the war over the Suez Canal in 1956, and events in Europe and Asia. In 1954 he participated in an educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, delivering lectures in India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia.
In 1961, Rowan moved to Washington to serve in the administration of President John F. Kennedy, first as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (1961-1963) and then as Ambassador to Finland (1963-1964). During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Rowan was a delegate to the United Nations. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson named him director of the U.S. Information Agency, a position that gave him a seat on the National Security Council.
Rowan left government service in 1965 and started writing a newspaper column, usually concerned with race relations, for the Field Newspaper Service Syndicate that was syndicated to 60 newspapers across the nation thrice weekly. For the next 30+ years he was also a radio commentator who did five broadcasts a week, as well as a regular panelist on the weekly television show Inside Washington.
In addition to his government and journalism careers, Rowan also authored eight books, including South of Freedom (1952), his reflections on life in the southern United States in the years leading up to the civil rights movement; Wait Till Next Year: The Life Story of Jackie Robinson (1960); Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall (1993), a biography of the first African American U.S. Supreme Court justice; and The Coming Race War in America: A Wake-Up Call, which discusses racial tension in America (1996).
In 1987, Rowan founded Project Excellence, a college scholarship program for high-achieving black high school students in the greater Washington area. The project also runs a scholarship fair with the Freedom Forum.
Rowan retired in 1999, and received the National Press Club Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement that same year. He is also the only journalist to win the coveted medallion of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism society, three years in a row for both domestic and foreign correspondence.
Carl T. Rowan died in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2000. He was survived by his wife, Vivien Rowan (whom he had married in 1950), and their three children, Barbara Rowan Jones, Carl T. Rowan Jr., and Jeffrey Rowan. In 2001, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright named the State Departments press briefing room the Carl T. Rowan Briefing Room.
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This page was last updated on 08/11/2018.