Terence A. Todman, who as United States ambassador to six nations and the first black person to head a geographic division of the State Department was known for candor, adroit negotiating and relentless efforts to bring more minorities to the Foreign Service, died on Aug. 13 on St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands. He was 88.
The State Department announced the death.
In 1990, Mr. Todman was awarded the title “career ambassador,” the State Department’s equivalent of a four-star general in the Army. For years he was the highest-ranking African-American in the Foreign Service. Jet magazine called him “the Jackie Robinson of diplomacy.”
He was ambassador to Chad, Guinea, Costa Rica, Spain, Denmark and Argentina, and assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration.
The son of a grocery clerk and a laundress, he served in the Army before and during the time it was racially integrated in the 1940s and joined the State Department when the only place to eat near its Virginia training center was segregated. He demanded that it be integrated, and for the rest of his career lobbied for more blacks in the diplomatic corps.
He sharply criticized the State Department for almost automatically sending black diplomats to Africa or the Caribbean as what he called “ghetto” assignments. After serving as ambassador to Chad in the early ’70s, he threatened to quit if he was again assigned to Africa, he told The Nation magazine in a 1996 interview.
He continued in Africa as ambassador to Guinea, but his assignment after that, in 1974, was Costa Rica. He was the first black American ambassador to a Latin American country. He said in an oral history that he felt he was “breaking out of this ridiculous mold.”
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said Mr. Todman “was known for his outspokenness and his advocacy for equality during a time of segregation, when few minorities could be found at any level in the State Department.”
Mr. Todman’s forthright approach was apparent in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan considered appointing him ambassador to South Africa. Mr. Todman, who was ambassador to Denmark at the time, said at a news conference that he could accept the job only if Mr. Reagan’s policy toward South Africa “finds credibility with the South Africans, with the people of Southern Africa and with the rest of the world.”
He added, “I don’t think we’re at that stage yet.”
Mr. Todman later said he was quoted out of context. Mr. Reagan found another black career Foreign Service officer for the post, Edward J. Perkins.
As the State Department’s chief Latin American strategist in the Carter administration, Mr. Todman helped to negotiate the treaty that led to Panama’s assuming ownership of the Panama Canal, as well as agreements with Cuba that included setting up regular diplomatic channels between Havana and Washington. He was the first American diplomat in 16 years to visit Havana.
He tried to walk a fine line between the Carter White House’s aggressive push for human rights and workable relations with countries being criticized for abuses. At the time he assumed office in the spring of 1977, Brazil, Argentina and several other Latin American countries had refused American aid because of the criticism. He strongly argued that it was wrong to punish an entire country because its rulers behaved badly.
When people were dying of waterborne diseases in Paraguay, for example, he persuaded policy makers in Washington that going ahead with aiding water purification efforts was more important than worrying about whether the country’s dictator, Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, would claim credit.
In February 1978 he gave a speech urging patience with the often fitful efforts by Latin American nations to improve human rights. The New York Times called the speech “a direct attack on the State Department’s human rights activists.” He was replaced as assistant secretary.
But President Jimmy Carter named him ambassador to Spain, one of the most prestigious diplomatic postings and one usually given to political appointees. He was the first black to head one of the most important missions, known as Class One embassies. In Spain, Mr. Todman negotiated the use of naval and air bases and helped the country become a member of NATO.
Terence Alphonso Todman was born on St. Thomas on March 13, 1926, one of 13 siblings. He attended Inter-American University of Puerto Rico for a year until he was drafted into the Army. He served in Japan, where he helped to organize that country’s first postwar election. He returned to Inter-American and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, then went on to Syracuse University, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration.
He passed the written State Department test, but, he recalled, the officer who interviewed him expressed worry that his West Indian accent was not “100 percent American.” On the basis of another interview, he was hired anyway. He said in the oral history that at the time he joined the State Department, the only blacks he saw were secretaries and messengers.
His early posts included the United Nations, Lebanon and Tunisia. From 1965 to 1969 he was deputy chief of mission in Togo, before becoming country director for East African Affairs.
His first ambassadorship was Chad, from 1969 to 1972. His last was Argentina, from 1989 to 1993.
Mr. Todman is survived by his wife of 62 years, the former Doris Weston; his sons, Terence Jr. and Michael; his daughters, Patricia Rhymer Todman and Kathryn Todman Browne; a brother; and six grandchildren.
Mr. Todman generally worked behind the scenes, but generated headlines in 1991 by publicly criticizing Argentine government officials for demanding bribes. He also criticized what he said were bureaucratic roadblocks hindering American investment there.
Negotiating, he once said, is “the art of letting someone else have your way.”
Terrance Alphonso Todman (March 13, 1926 – August 13, 2014) was an American diplomat who served as the United States Ambassador to Chad, Guinea, Costa Rica,Spain, Denmark, and Argentina. In 1990, he was awarded the rank of Career Ambassador.
He was born on Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on March 13, 1926. He was drafted and served in Japan from 1945 to 1949.
He graduated from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico summa cum laude, and from Syracuse University.
Todman was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He was a director of Exxcel Group.  On August 13, 2014, he died at the age of 88 at a hospital in Saint Thomas.
He married Doris Weston; they have four children.
Terence Alphonso Todman (March 13, 1926 – August 13, 2014) was an American diplomat who served as the United States Ambassador to Chad, Guinea, Costa Rica, Spain, Denmark and Argentina. In 1990, he was awarded the rank of Career Ambassador.
He was born on Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, on March 13, 1926. He was drafted and served in Japan from 1945 to 1949.
He graduated from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico summa cum laude, and from Syracuse University.
Todman was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He was also a director of Exxcel Group.
On August 13, 2014, Terence Todman died at the age of 88 at a hospital in Saint Thomas.
He married Doris Weston and they had four children.