Angie Brooks: Pioneer Liberian Woman (Diplomat Remembered) By Dr. D. Elwood Dunn
Sept 25, 2007
Angie Brooks’ entry into the Liberian diplomatic service was unorthodox. It was the result of a determined, indeed courageous personal struggle to seek higher education abroad. She succeeded admirably, returning home to Liberia from the U.S. in 1953 with undergraduate and advanced degrees, including a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was appointed Assistant Attorney General shortly upon her return and remained with the Justice Department for five years, though her diplomatic career began in earnest in 1954 when she, for the first time, was appointed a member of the Liberian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
Though an old country in the context of modern Africa, Liberia did not establish a diplomatic corps before the 1950s. The first Liberians sent abroad expressly for training in diplomacy included some of our better known early Ambassadors such as George A. Padmore (Washington Embassy), S. Edward Peal (veteran of Washington), J. Dudley Lawrence (Paris and London Embassies), Christie Doe (Madrid and Conakry Embassies), and David Thomas (UN Mission). The women in this first team of trainees were never appointed Ambassadors. The Liberian government signed a contract with the United States Foreign Service Institute to undertake the training. Among the trained diplomats Mrs. Brooks was a trailblazer as she was destined to serve as a Liberian diplomat on the world stage of the United Nations.
In 1958 she was transferred to the Department of State as an Assistant Secretary of State. Henceforth, she became a perennial member of the government’s delegation to the General Assembly of the U.N. Her early recognizable talent in the fine art of diplomacy, as well as her singular interest in, and commitment to, the liberation of Africa from colonialism soon became evident. Her work for the Fourth or Trusteeship Committee of the General Assembly soon led to election by her colleagues as vice chairperson. Trusteeship in the U.N. system quickly became a euphemism for the organization’s involvement with dependent peoples the world over. Mrs. Brooks thus saw service in a number of areas of the U.N.’s efforts in transitioning to independence Trust Territories and colonies,
In 1960, dubbed the “year of Africa” at the U.N. because of the large number of admitted African states and the prominence of African issues on the agenda, the General Assembly passed the historic Resolution 1514 on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples. It removed the distinction between Trust Territories and Non-Self-Governing Territories and signaled the world body’s disposition to move with deliberate speed to end colonialism once and for all. In the implementation of this mandate Mrs. Brooks became vice chairperson of a Committee on Information for non-self-governing territories (colonies of European powers).
Other engagements followed in rapid succession. She became chairperson of the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly; chairperson in 1962 for a special committee on the issue of Ruanda-Urundi (a Belgium Trust Territory divided that year into the respective states of Rwanda and Burundi); and chairperson in 1964 of a U.N. Visiting Mission to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1966 she presided over the principal U.N. organ devoted to dependent peoples, the Trusteeship Council. She was the first woman and the first African to serve in this capacity.
Soon came the crowning opportunity of any career in diplomacy – election as presiding officer of the General Assembly, the only principal U.N. organ where all member states are represented on the basis of sovereign equality. The rooster of those who have served is a veritable who’s who of world diplomats. Then, only one female (India’s Vijaya Lakshimi Pandit) and two Africans (Tunisia’s Mongi Slim, and Ghana’s Alex Quaison-Sackey) had enjoyed the distinction. Given her familiarity with the terrain and the actors at the U.N. it seemed natural that she would aspire to the office. But first, she had to secure the support of her home government and the African caucusing group. It was an uphill struggle as she later related. Doubt was in the air at the State Department and elsewhere in Monrovia as to whether she was ready for such a responsibility. Confident in her own abilities, however, she never relented in waging a most vigorous campaign on both the Liberian and African fronts. With President Tubman’s eventual support, coupled with the softening of extra-Liberian reticence, she prevailed.
Mrs. Brooks was formally elected 16 September 1969 as President of the Twenty Fourth Regular Session of the U.N. General Assembly. Though a large number of African states had by then attained independence, a colonial residue persisted notably white minority rule in southern Africa. These joined other agenda items to test her mettle as she presided over the world body. In her closing speech as Assembly President she laid down a challenge as she declared: “If much remains to be done, new avenues to be explored, new attitudes and ideas to be found, we have given the direction to future assemblies.”
Ambassador Brooks remained at the State Department (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) through the mid-1970s, accepting an appointment in 1975 as the Permanent Representative of Liberia to the United Nations. Two years later President Tolbert appointed her the first female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia. She served on the Court until the 1980 coup d’etat.
Pace-setter diplomat at home, across and beyond the African continent, she blazed the trail for those that followed in a now established Liberian diplomatic corps – Eugenia W. Stevenson (former Ambassador to Germany, and the USA); Neh Dukuly Tolbert (former Ambassador to France, and current to China); Abeodu Bowen Jones (former Ambassador to the U.N.); Edith Bowen Carr (former Ambassador to France); Lois Lewis Brutus (current Ambassador to South Africa); Vivian Wreh (current Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire); Sadia Massaquoi Bangura (current Ambassador to Germany) and Yongor Tellewoda (current Ambassador to the European Union).
Angie Brooks has left us an enviable legacy – personal qualities of hard work, fortitude and determination; professional competence and dedication; role model for our aspiring young women. In the United Nations and other archives are the full records of service of this remarkable Liberian woman. Her career is worthy of a book-length account. It is my earnest hope that someone will rise to this challenge.
MAY SHE REST IN PEACE 1
© 2007 by The Perspective