Ebenezer D. Bassett was the first African-American diplomat, serving as an ambassador to Haiti shortly after the Civil War. Bassett was honored this past weekend in New Haven, Conn. for the state’s annual Freedom Trail celebration.
Bassett was born October 16, 1833 in the town of Derby to free parents. Bassett’s parents, both free, were well known in their community and pushed for their children to embrace education as their way to prominence. Bassett was the first Black person to integrate the Connecticut Normal School, which is now known as Central Connecticut State University.
After leaving the Normal School, Bassett taught in New Haven, which is where he encountered and befriended abolitionist Fredrick Douglass. Bassett then traveled to Philadelphia to teach at an all-Black school known as the Institute for Colored Youth. It was a progressive idea at the time, and served as a base of operations for Douglass and Bassett to recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army during the height of the Civil War.
The school is now known as Cheyney University, which is considered the oldest existing African-American higher learning institution. There have been claims it is the nation’s oldest HBCU, although Lincoln University in the state also makes this claim as well.
In 1869, four years after the official end of the Civil War, President Ulysses Grant sought Black officials to fill important positions of power. On the recommendation of Douglass, Grant appointed Bassett as the Minister Resident to Haiti. The title of ambassador wasn’t used in the states until 1893.