Carl Rowan with U.S. President
U.S. Department of State photo
Carl Thomas Rowan (August 11, 1925 - September 23, 2000), was an African American public servant, journalist and author. Rowan was a nationally-syndicated op-ed columnist for the Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times. He was one of the most prominent black journalists of the 20th century.
Carl Rowan was born in Tennessee and was raised in McMinnville, in that state. He studied at Tennessee State University (1942-43) and Washburn University (1943-44). He was one of the first African-Americans to serve as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy. He graduated from Oberlin College (1947) and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota (1948). He began his career in journalism as copywriter for The Minneapolis Tribune (1948-50),
Listen to Carl Rowan: The Life Story of an Influential Newsman, free from the Voice of America. In 1961, Rowan was appointed Deputy Secretary of State by President John F. Kennedy. The following year, he served as a delegate to the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rowan became the U.S. Ambassador to Finland in 1963. In 1964, Rowan was appointed director of the United States Information Agency by President Lyndon B. Johnson, but resigned in 1965 when both Johnson and Rowan were accused of trying to dictate a pro-administration bias to Voice of America broadcasts. He was the first African-American to attend meetings of the National Security Council.
From 1966 to 1998, Rowan wrote a syndicated column for the Chicago Sun-Times and, from 1967 to 1996, was a panelist on Inside Washington. His name appeared on the master list of Nixon political opponents. Rowan was a 1995 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his commentaries. He is the only journalist in history to win the Sigma Delta Chi medallion for journalistic excellence in three successive years.
In 1968 Rowan received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College.
Thurgood Marshall's only interview while serving on the Supreme Court of the United States was for Carl Rowan's 1988 documentary. The National Press Club gave Rowan its 1999 Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement. On January 9, 2001, United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright dedicated the press briefing room at the State Department as the Carl T. Rowan Briefing room.
Rowan gained public notoriety on June 14, 1988, when he shot a teenage tresspasser, Neil Smith, who was using Rowan's swimming pool in Washington, D.C.. Rowan used an unregistered .22 LR pistol. Critics charged hypocrisy, since Rowan was a strict gun control advocate. In a 1981 column, he advocated " a law that says anyone found in possession of a handgun except a legitimate officer of the law goes to jail — period." In 1985, he called for "A complete and universal federal ban on the sale, manufacture, importation and possession of handguns (except for authorized police and military personnel)."
Immediately after the shooting, Rowan offered several conflicting accounts about where he got the handgun. He first said that he had purchased the gun himself in response to threats on his life (which he later claimed had been made by the Ku Klux Klan). He also initially claimed that the gun had been properly registered. However, when District of Columbia police disclosed that the gun had not been registered, Rowan changed his story, claiming that the gun belonged to his son, who "was an FBI agent and did not have to register it [because it was] properly registered federally." Police officials pointed out that under D.C. law, all guns must be registered locally; failure to do so was punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Rowan was tried but the jury was deadlocked, the judge declared a mistrial and he was never retried. In his autobiography, Rowan said he still favors gun control, but admits being vulnerable to a charge of hypocrisy.
Rowan died in Washington, D.C. His alma mater Oberlin College holds his papers.