Linda Thomas-Greenfield spent 35 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including assignments in Jamaica, Nigeria, Gambia, Kenya, Pakistan, Switzerland and Liberia. Not bad for a girl from Baker, La.
The East Baton Rouge Parish native will serve as President-elect Biden’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, and given that Thomas-Greenfield’s area of expertise is Africa, her appointment is a signal that the new president seeks to focus many of his foreign policies towards the Great Continent.
Thomas-Greenfield has been a civil rightstrendsetter since her student days. She was the first person in her family to graduate high school – from Northwestern High School in Zachary in 1970 – where she was a member of the first desegregated class. Upon matriculating at Louisiana State University (LSU), she joined Harambe, an African-American student group created in the early 1970s in the wake of the first wave of African-American students enrolling at the previously all-white school. Thomas-Greenfield took part in the organization’s civil rights demonstrations on campus as well as in marches to the State Capitol.
After earning her degree from LSU in 1974, Thomas-Greenfield went to the University of Wisconsin for her master’s degree, then taught at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania before joining the Foreign Service in 1982. She earned a respected bipartisan record serving as ambassador to Liberia under President George W. Bush and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Barack Obama.
While serving in Rwanda in 1994, a genocide broke out, and Thomas-Greenfield was held at gunpoint until she convinced her attackers that she was an American. She also served as the top State Department official in charge of African policy during the Ebola crisis. Throughout her foreign service career, more than a decade was spent laboring on refugee and migration issues. Thomas-Greenfield left the service in 2017.
This article originally published in the November 30, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.