Carl Rowan was born on August 11, 1925 in Ravenscroft, Tennessee to Thomas and Johnnie B. Rowan. Like many other African-American youths growing up in the South, he faced great hardships. However, despite the prejudices and obstacles he encountered, Rowan managed to graduate high school as both class president and valedictorian.
Rowan then went on to attend Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College where during his freshman year he participated in a program that enabled him to become one of the first African Americans in the history of the United States to earn a commission as an officer of the Navy. After serving in World War II, Rowan completed his studies at Oberlin College and earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He then went on to attend graduate school at the University of Minnesota, earning his master’s degree in journalism.
Rowan eventually earned a spot writing for two weekly newspapers – the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder. Upon graduation, he took a job as a copy-reader for the Minneapolis Tribune, where he was later promoted to a general assignment reporter. It was here that Rowan published “How Far from Slavery,” a series of columns that he wrote after studying racial issues in the South. They would also soon serve as the foundation for his first book, South of Freedom. Rowan’s evident journalistic talent earned him acclaim; he was the first African-American to receive the Minneapolis Outstanding Young Man award.
Rowan was the only journalist to be honored by the Sigma Delta Chi award for three consecutive years. Beginning in 1954, Rowan received the award for his outstanding general reporting, and then once again in 1955 for best foreign correspondence, and finally in 1956 for his coverage of the political unrest in Southeast Asia.
Rowan released two more books – The Pitiful and the Proud and Go South to Sorrow, before becoming deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs to the Kennedy administration in 1961. He went on to serve in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations as ambassador to Finland and as the director of the U.S. Information Agency, which made him the first African-American to hold a seat on the National Security Council. After resigning from the Information Agency in 1965, Rowan returned to journalism and began not only writing a national column for the Field Newspaper Service Syndicate, but also doing weekly radio commentaries for the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company.
Carl Rowan was a well known and highly decorated journalist. He received the George Foster Peabody Award for his television special “Race War in Rhodesia,” and he was awarded an Emmy for the documentary “Drug Abuse: America’s 64 Billion Dollar Curse.” He aired a daily series of commentaries called “The Rowan Report,” and his newspaper column was syndicated by the Chicago Sun-Times; both reached across the nation. In 1999, the National Press Club awarded Rowan its Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement, and then in 2001 the press briefing room at the State Department was named the Carl T. Rowan Briefing room.
In 1987, Rowan started Project Excellence, a program intended to make it easier for African-American high school students to attend college, and by 2000 the program had given out $26 million dollars in scholarship money to over 1150 students.After being hospitalized for a number of illnesses, including diabetes, 75-year-old Carl Rowan died at the Washington Hospital Center on September 23, 2000.