Passing of Ambassador Walter C. Carrington (July 24, 1930 – August 11, 2020)

August 11, 2020


It is with great sadness that the Center for African Studies mourns Ambassador Walter C. Carrington’s passing.

“Walter Omowale Carrington was of that breed that provokes the time-honoured, nostalgic sentiment, a cliché that is however grounded in unvarnished truth: “They don’t make them like that any more”.”

- Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prizewinning Nigerian playwright and poet.
(Full statement here)

Ambassador Carrington graduated from both Harvard College (1952) and Harvard Law School (1955).  He was one of four black students at Harvard College, and he founded the first Harvard chapter of the NAACP while he was president of the Harvard Society for Minority Rights. In addition, he was leader of the Liberal Union and a class marshal. Honored in 2006 by the Harvard Foundation, S. Allen Counter, then director of the Harvard Foundation noted "these men are not only pioneers because they achieved so much as the only black undergraduates at Harvard at the time, but they also had to overcome America’s racism of that era."

Ambassador Carrington was a distinguished American diplomat who served as the US Ambassador to Senegal from 1980 - 1981 and the US Ambassador to Nigeria from 1993 - 1997. Before his foreign service career, he had vast experience working on the African continent through his career in the Peace Corps, which brought him to Tunisia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone from 1961 - 1971. After the Peace Corps, he held the position of Executive Vice President of the Africa-American Institute from 1971 - 1980.

“Erin Wo, ‘the elephant has fallen’ as we will say in Yoruba Nigerian culture where Ambassador Carrington was given the name Omowale( this child has come home)in recognition of his return to Nigeria as an African American and Ambassador. But more significantly, it was to recognize his many contributions to the country he loved so much. His finesse, gentle, humble and sincere life became reference point to many who knew him. Our students here at Harvard who attend the ‘Nigeria and the world seminar‘ which Carrington never missed saw him as a benevolent grandfather and role model worth emulating. May his place of rest be a blessed one. He will be surely missed by all of us."

- Professor Jacob Olupona, Professor of African Religious Traditions and Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.

Ambassador Carrington also held various positions in academia. He was named director of the Department of International Affairs at Howard University and also taught at Marquette University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Simmons College, and Washington College. He was appointed as a fellow of Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute as well as a MacArthur Fellow.

“Walter embodied the very best in the black pioneers in the Harvard student body: he was wise, thoughtful, elegant, possessed of a penetrating intellect and a deep determination to fight racism and help other black people gain access to opportunities, such as admission to Harvard, that racist practices historically limited. He was something of a hero to me, a living embodiment of traditions of intellectual excellence and service in the African American community during segregation that one only reads about.”

- Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
(Full statement here)

The Center was fortunate to have Ambassador Carrington so closely engaged with our work. His presence will be deeply missed at Harvard and beyond. We share our heartfelt condolences to Ambassador Carrington’s wife, Arese, their children, close family, and friends.

Walter Carrington and Olusegun ObasanjoH.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999-2007), and Ambassador Walter Carrington at the Harvard Center for African Studies’ Africa’s Leaders Speak Conference in April 2018.


You can read more on the Harvard Gazette here.


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