July 1, 1999, President Bill Clinton sent the name Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas to the Senate as his nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Senegal. 

On her first journey to Senegal, she was just another face in the diplomatic crowd. Then she left that land—Senegal, home of the Maison d’Esclaves, the iconic slave house on Goree Island with its infamous “Door of No Return.” But she came back to Dakar, not just as part of the mission, but up front and personal: Her Excellency. Madam Ambassador. (The one with the salt ‘n’ pepper cornrows.) She was the messenger, and the message, as well—an embodiment of what the United States of America had come to be.

Diversifying Diplomacy, the memoir of Harriet Elam-Thomas, is more than just a personal history, more than just a her-story. It is the timely narrative of an African-American woman weaned in black Boston on family pride and ambition, liberated through education, inspired by civil rights battles and mentored to the top by fellow travelers and battle-scarred elders.

Hers is a great American story. It is fact, not fiction. It’s real.

-Milton Coleman, retired Senior Editor, The Washington Post

Career Highlights

During Ambassador Elam-Thomas’ four-decade Foreign Service career, she demonstrated a remarkable dedication to the practice of bridging cultures. With unique vision and insight, Ambassador Elam-Thomas placed a human face on diplomacy. Her varied overseas assignments have taken her to Greece, Turkey, France, Belgium, Senegal, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire. Domestic assignments included counselor (the most senior career position) and acting deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency (now a part of the Department of State), as well as serving as foreign service personnel in Washington, the United Nations and the White House. Ambassador Elam-Thomas fulfilled her commitment to serve the national interest through public diplomacy during her overseas tours in France, Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Greece, Turkey and Belgium. She returned to Africa to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Senegal from January 2000 to December 2002.  Her performance abroad brought unprecedented recognition from the prime minister of Turkey and cultural leaders in Greece, as well as meritorious and superior honor awards from the Department of State.

April 2006 to Present

Director of Diplomacy Program – University of Central Florida

The University has Pickering, Rangel, Truman and Boren Fellows as a direct result of the courses I teach and counsel I provide to students on this campus. The international focus of the Central Florida Region has also increased with The Orlando Economic Development Commission’s first International Trade Delegation to Montreal, Canada and with the region’s hosting delegations from Japan, India, Iraq and Afghanistan.   The Global Perspective’s Office of UCF has also hosted the former President of India, Ambassadors from India, delegations from Croatia and Northern Iraq (Kurdistan).

August 2003 – September 2005

Diplomat-in-ResidenceUniversity of Central Florida.

Counseled potential candidates on Foreign Service careers; identified candidates for the Pickering and Rangel Fellowship Programs. Scores of students took and passed the highly competitive written and oral Foreign Service Exam.  Four students have received either Pickering or Rangel Fellowships.  August 2003 to September 2005.

October 2003 – October 2006

Member of General James A. Jones’ Senior Advisory Group of the United States European Command Senior Advisory Group

Advised senior U.S. military and civilian policy-makers about security and defense issues which obtained in their Area of Operation and led to the establishment of  the new Africa Command (AFRICOM). 

January 2000 – December 2002

U.S. Ambassador, The Republic of Senegal.  Increased U.S. foreign

investment, heightened Senegal’s credibility in the G-8 and through U.S. support of the New Plan for Economic Development (NEPAD).  Initiated path which led to Senegal’s receiving a coveted Millennium Challenge Grant.  Directed six U.S. Government agencies which operated in Senegal. 

September 1997 – October 1999

Counselor and Acting Deputy Director, United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington, DC 

Coordinated consolidation of USIA to the Department of State.  .  Managed the integration of the 40-year independent agency into the Department of State.  Chaired negotiations with interagency teams regarding the transfer of human and financial resources of the 40-year independent agency. 

September 1995 to August 1997

Counselor for Public Affairs, U.S. Embassy Brussels, Belgium – Coordinated this post’s public diplomacy function to be integrated to the State Department’s programs. Established a U.S. Trade and Investment Center for the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union.  Engaged Belgian audiences on U.S.-EU and NATO expansion policies and relevant U.S. domestic policy issues. 

July 1990 – June 1994

Director American Press and Cultural Center, Istanbul, Turkey  Gained first  written apology from the Turkish Press after a major newspaper implied the U.S. gave food to terrorists.  Heightened U.S.-Turkish academic, business and political contacts through high-level exchange programs and NATO Tours.

Additional Assignments

Cultural Affairs Officer, Athens, Greece 1983-1987

Country Affairs Officer, Greece, Turkey & Cyprus, 1980-1982

Cultural Affairs Officer, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, 1977-1979

Acting Public Affairs Officer, Bamako, Mali (TDY), 1976

Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, Dakar, Senegal, 1975-1977

Program Officer, Educational & Cultural Affairs Bureau, 1971-1975

Assistant to President’s Appointment Secretary, The White House, 1968-1971