Way Back When... 1869
Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, a Connecticut native who lived from 1833 to 1908, was the first African-American diplomat in the United States.
According to Discover Diplomacy, a product of the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the U.S. Department of State, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Bassett as the U.S. minister to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1869. He was the first African American to serve as a U.S. diplomat anywhere in the world.
The United States was just emerging from the Civil War and remaking itself as a nation. African Americans were slowly making advances in politics, business, education and government.
“Bassett helped lead this sweeping change, and notably opened the door for other African Americans to enter the diplomatic corps, including Frederick Douglass,” reads Bassett’s biography on Discover Diplomacy.
His father had fled slavery in the South and his mother was a Pequot Indian.
In 1853, he became the first black student at the Connecticut Normal School, today known as Central Connecticut State University. He worked for 14 years as a teacher in Philadelphia and was United States minister to Haiti from 1869 to 1877.
The year Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, a Connecticut native, was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as the U.S. minister to Haiti and the Dominican Republic
Bassett left Haiti at the end of the Grant administration in 1877. Back in the United States, he served for 10 years as the American consul general for Haiti in New York City.
Bassett died in 1908, “after a lifetime of courageous service to his nation as an educator, abolitionist, civil rights activist, and diplomat.”
According to literature found on Central Connecticut State University’s website, Bassett’s accomplishments were first annually celebrated by the Man Enough Support Initiative at its annual Student Achievement Awards Ceremony.
Since 2011, nearly 200 students have been recognized for demonstrating Bassett’s character and virtues. In 2014, the CCSU campus, the Connecticut General Assembly and participating towns and cities, including New Britain, Derby, New Haven and Hartford, began celebrating Bassett and his historic achievements at the annual Ebenezer D. Bassett Day Celebration and Lecture Series.
Through the efforts of the Ebenezer D. Bassett Memorial Committee, steps have been made to memorialize Bassett on the CCSU campus by honoring university buildings with his name.
In 2017, according to CCSU, 11 leaders in politics and human rights advocacy were honored at the 2017 Ebenezer D. Bassett Humanitarian Awards in October.
Humanitarian Award honorees last fall included June Archer; John Brittain Esq.; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and his wife, Cynthia; Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty; former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly; Dr. Peter Rosa; Richard and Clara Ruffin, Consul General Christopher Teal and Roland Harris (posthumous).