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Year
1957

President Dwight D. Eisenhower apologizes to African diplomat

In the conclusion to an extremely embarrassing situation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower offers his apologies to Ghanian Finance Minister, Komla Agbeli Gbdemah, who had been refused service at a restaurant in Dover, Delaware. It was one of the first of many such incidents in which African diplomats were confronted with racial segregation in the United States. While the matter might appear rather small relative to other events in the Cold War, the continued racial slights to African (and Asian) diplomats during the 1950s and 1960s were of utmost concern to U.S. officials. During those decades the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for the “hearts and minds” of hundreds of millions of people of color in Asia and Africa.

Racial discrimination in America–particularly when it was directed at representatives from those regions–was, as one U.S. official put it, the nation’s “Achilles’ heel.” Matters continued to deteriorate during the early 1960s, when dozens of diplomats from new nations in Africa and Asia faced housing discrimination in Washington, D.C., as well as a series of confrontations in restaurants, barbershops, and other places of business in and around the area. It was clear that American civil rights had become an international issue.

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