Edith Sampson was the first American black woman delegate to the United Nations. She was appointed by President Harry S. Truman on August 24, 1950.
Sampson’s work with the World Town Hall Seminar caught the attention of President Harry S. Truman, who appointed her an alternate delegate to the fifth regular session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. She was the first African American woman to be named an official American representative to the U.N. She served on the U.N.’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, which worked for land reform, reparation of prisoners, repatriation of Greek children, and efforts to stop governments’ jamming of radio broadcasts. She was reappointed alternate delegate in 1952 and later was named member-at-large of the U.S. Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) during President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration.
Sampson served as a spokesperson for the State Department throughout the 1950s. She visited Europe, the Middle East, and South America, addressing the status of African Americans. Ebony magazine called her “one of the country’s most potent weapons against Communist distortion of the Negro’s status in the U.S.” Sampson strongly criticized Soviet distortions of the lives of African Americans. She once told Soviet U.N. delegate Andrei Vyshinsky, “We Negroes aren’t interested in communism. We were slaves too long for that.”
Sampson acknowledged racial discrimination in her speeches, but she chose to emphasize the positive aspects of democracy for African American people. She described a 1950 trip to Austria with Ebony magazine: “There were times when I had to bow my head in shame when talking about how some Negroes have been treated in the United States… . But I could truthfully point out that these cases, bad as they are, are the exceptions – the Negro got justice for every one where justice was denied. I could tell them that Negroes have a greater opportunity in America to work out their salvation than anywhere else in the world.”
That last sentence still holds true today, but speaking with many black Americans, you would think otherwise. I still believe black women living in the U.S. have more opportunities to be successful than anywhere else in the world. The fact that black women who come from far worse circumstances around the world and lack access to resources, but are still able to be successful, drives the point home to me.