She would’ve been 98-years-young on May 13th!
In the 1960s, the United States Peace Corps was established with the aim of promoting world peace and friendship by sending American volunteers to work in developing countries. At the helm of this organization in 1977 was Carolyn Robertson Payton, who made history as the first Black director of the Peace Corps, the U.S. Peace Corps reports.
Payton was born May 13, 1925 in Norfolk, Virginia. She grew up in the midst of segregation and racism, but despite the obstacles she faced, she excelled academically. Payton earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Howard University in 1946. She then went on to receive a Master’s degree and a PhD in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Payton got her start as a field assessment officer in 1964. Throughout her career, Payton dedicated herself to public service and worked in various roles in the federal government, including as a research psychologist for the Department of Labor and as a consultant for the U.S. Civil Service Commission. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her as the director of the Peace Corps, a position she held until 1981.
As director, Payton worked to expand the reach of the Peace Corps and increase the diversity of its volunteers. She emphasized the importance of cultural understanding and encouraged volunteers to immerse themselves in the local communities where they were stationed. She also sought to make the Peace Corps more reflective of the diversity of the United States by recruiting more volunteers from underrepresented groups. Payton passed away in 2001 at the age of 75, The New York Times reports.
Payton’s legacy as the first Black director of the Peace Corps continues to inspire generations of leaders and public servants. Her commitment to service, diversity, and cultural understanding remains a model for all who seek to make a positive impact in the world.
Today, we honor Carolyn Robertson Payton for her trailblazing achievements and her enduring legacy as a champion of peace and equality. Her example reminds us that we can all make a difference in the world, no matter where we come from or what obstacles we face.
Because of Carolyn Robertson Payton, we can!
Cover photo: Meet Carolyn Robertson Payton: The trailblazing first Black director of the U.S. Peace Corps/Photo Courtesy of BlackPast.org