Carl T. Rowan, journalist, government worker, media personality, and author, broke racial barriers throughout his career. He was born on August 10, 1925, to Thomas David and Johnnie Bradford Rowan and grew up in White County and then McMinnville. Challenged to pursue excellence by his high school teachers and Tennessee State University professors, Rowan took the national examination for admission to the U.S. Navy’s officer training program. He became one of the first fifteen African Americans to be admitted and, in 1944, one of the first African Americans to earn a commission in the navy.
Following his military career in 1946, he entered Oberlin College, where he majored in mathematics and received a B.A. in 1947. In l948 he received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota. While in school he wrote for several newspapers and upon graduation became a copy editor for the Minneapolis Tribune. Eventually he was promoted to reporter, one of the few African American reporters in the United States. In 1950 he proposed to his editors a series of articles on the conditions in the post-World War II South. Several publications grew from this series, including Go South to Sorrow (1957). This reporting underscored his determination to tell the truth regardless of the parties involved, to be more than the African American reporter who reported black events, and not to be a token African American reporter.
In 1954 he spent nearly a year in India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia as a lecturer for the United Nations’ international education exchange program. He reported his observations to the Tribune and other papers in the United States and Asia and ultimately wrote The Pitiful and the Proud. Additionally, he wrote articles for the Minneapolis Tribune on Native Americans; the Bandung Conference; the Civil Rights movement; the Suez Canal crisis; and the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union. For his domestic reporting and foreign correspondence, he became the only journalist in American history to be awarded the Sigma Delta Chi medallion for three consecutive years.
In 1961 Rowan left the Tribune to serve as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs with the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. He moved to Helsinki in 1963, where he served as ambassador to Finland until 1964, when he became director of the United States Information Agency. He became not only the highest ranking African American in the federal government but also the first to attend National Security Council meetings. In 1965 he returned to journalism and was hired by the Field Newspaper Syndicate, becoming the first African American with a nationally syndicated column. He also had his own radio program, The Rowan Report, and made regular appearances on the television programs Agronsky & Co. and Meet the Press.
Further, Rowan wrote and produced two documentaries on Thurgood Marshall and wrote the books Just Between Us Blacks (1974), Race War in Rhodesia (1978), Breaking Barriers: A Memoir (1991), Dream Makers Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall (1993), and The Coming Race War: A Wake-up Call (1996).
In his syndicated column, lectures, and community involvement, Rowan continued to adhere to the principles that had informed his life’s work until the day he died, September 23, 2000, in Washington, D. C.