In Memoriam: Edward Joseph Perkins, 1928-2020

Edward J. Perkins, the first African Amerian to serve as ambassador to the Republic of South Africa and who later taught at the University of Oklahoma, died last month in a Washington, D.C., hospital after suffering a stroke. He was 92 years old.

After completing high school in Oregon, Perkins joined the Army and later the Marine Corps in hopes of seeing the world and earning money for college through the G.I. Bill. While overseas, he earned a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from what is now the University of Maryland Global Campus.

Perkins began his government career by joining the U.S. Agency for International Development where he worked in Thailand. In 1971, he passed the foreign service exam. While working in the State Department, Dr. Perkins earned master’s and doctoral degrees in public administration from the University of Southern California.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dr. Perkins ambassador to Liberia. A year later, he was named ambassador to South Africa. He held this post during a period of worldwide opposition to South African apartheid.

Dr. Perkins later served as ambassador to Australia and as director of the foreign service. He left government service in 1995 and joined the faculty at the Univerity of Oklahoma where he taught courses on geopolitics and was director of the International Programs Center.

Dr. Perkins authored the memoir Mr. Ambassdor: Warrior for Peace (Univerity of Oklahoma Press, 2006).

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