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Ollie B. Ellison, Sr.

Foreign service officer Ollie Benjamin Jefferson Ellison, Sr. was born on February 23, 1927 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. His mother was a schoolteacher; his father, the first African American attorney in the State of Oklahoma. Ellison’s father also served as chairman of the Negro Democratic Party. Ellison graduated from Douglas High School in 1944 and then attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he received his B.A. degree in biology in 1949. During his junior year in 1946, Ellison was drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War and served in the Military Police Unit in Inchon, Korea. He later entered Indiana University’s graduate program, where he studied clinical psychology and Soviet studies. In 1951, Ellison was sent by the U.S. Army to intelligence school in Berlin, Germany. Upon returning from military duty in Germany, he enrolled in a graduate program in political science at the University of Chicago.

In 1957, Ellison was among the U.S. State Department’s first African American foreign service officers and was assigned to a post in the Middle East. He served in Cairo, Egypt from 1959 to 1964; Bremen, Germany from 1967 to 1970; Kinshasa, Zaire from 1974 to 1978; and Bangkok, Thailand from 1978 to 1981. Between 1981 and 1982, Ellison served in Bangui, Central African Republic; and, from 1983 to 1989, was an officer in Geneva, Switzerland. There, he served as U.S. representative to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. As a foreign service officer, Ellison met with several leaders and artists including P.W. Botha, Oliver Tambo, Malcolm X and Maya Angelou. He retired from the U.S. State Department in 1989 and later worked for the National Archives declassification department.

In 1973, Ellison authored the “Employment Practices of U.S. Firms in South Africa”, which appeared in the Johannesburg Star and became known later as The Sullivan Principles. In February of 2013, his career was featured in the U.S. State Department’s State Magazine.

Ellison passed away on May 26, 2015 at the age of eighty-eight. He was married to Lydia A. Ellison and had four children: Ollie B. Ellison, Sylvia J. Ellison, Bonita J. Ellison, and Rebecca W. Ellison.

Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 29, 2004 and January 14, 2005.

Accession Number

A2004.239

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/29/2004 |and| 1/14/2005

Last Name

Ellison

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

B.

Organizations
Schools

Douglass High School

Dunbar Elementary School

Lincoln University

Indiana University

University of Chicago

First Name

Ollie

Birth City, State, Country

Muskogee

HM ID

ELL01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Oklahoma

Favorite Vacation Destination

Germany

Favorite Quote

He Who Doesn't Have It In His Head Must Have It In His Feet.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

2/23/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Gumbo

Death Date

5/26/2015

Short Description

Foreign service officer Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. (1927 - 2015 ) was among the first African American U.S. Foreign Service officers.

Employment

Chicago Transit Authority

Cook County Welfare

U.S. Army

U.S. Department of State

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ollie B. Ellison, Sr.'s interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his maternal family history, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his maternal family history, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his paternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers the impact of his father's death

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about Native American landholding in Oklahoma during his father's lifetime

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his childhood community in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about attending Inman E. Page School and Dunbar School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about career expectations in his community

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers being a bookish child

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about growing up Episcopalian

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes working while attending Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about his college ambitions

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his time at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about influences in his early life

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his U.S. military training at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his U.S. army service in Korea

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes moving between The University Graduate School at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and the U.S. army

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers being stationed in Berlin, Germany as an intelligence officer

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about his reputation as an intelligence officer

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about joining the United States Foreign Service in the early 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about passing the officer test for the United States Foreign Service

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes the politics of the United States Foreign Service

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about his marriage and gender discrimination in his 1957 United States Foreign Service class

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his first United States Foreign Service assignment in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about being stationed in Cairo, Egypt in the late 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about the political climate of Cairo, Egypt in the late 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes the status he had while dispensing visas to the United States in Egypt

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers the impact of African nationalism in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Slating of Ollie B. Ellison, Sr.'s tape, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers trying to get a United States visa for Oliver Tambo

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers observing the Civil Rights Movement from afar

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes advising the United States Department of State about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1960s, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes advising the United States Department of State about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1960s, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his post in Bremen, Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about an encounter with a local leader of the Communist Party of Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about being assigned to attend a Neo-Nazi convention in Germany

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about his similarities and differences with HistoryMaker Angela Davis

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his research on employment practices in southern African countries

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. recalls his observations of apartheid while in South Africa

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes the repercussions of his economics paper for the United States Department of State and the Sullivan Principles

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about the economic impact of the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Kinshasa, Republic of Zaire

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about the connection between African Americans and Africans, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about the connection between African Americans and Africans, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about meeting Chinese President Deng Xiaoping while working in Thailand

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his accomplishments as the United States Embassy finance and development officer in Thailand

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his assignment in the Central African Republic

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. remembers conflicts with the United States ambassador to the Central African Republic

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes building relationships with local Central African Republic officials

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his assignment of providing diplomatic protection in the Central African Republic

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his assignment of providing diplomatic protection in the Central African Republic

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. recalls an intense encounter with soldiers from the Central African Republic

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about being recalled from the Central African Republic

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes his work on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva, Switzerland

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

2$2

DATape

5$8

DAStory

9$1

DATitle
Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. talks about being assigned to attend a Neo-Nazi convention in Germany
Ollie B. Ellison, Sr. recalls an intense encounter with soldiers from the Central African Republic
Transcript
What was your assignment after Germany?$$When, when--my assignment after Germany--when, when--of course, I would like to add to that, that, that my, my meetings--and, of course, I think I had a full spectrum of meetings there, believe it or not. For instance, the, the Neo-Nazi party for, for, for Germany, the NPD, the National Partei Demokratische [sic. Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands; National Democratic Party of Germany], was having--had this national convention there in Bremen [West Germany; Bremen, Germany] while I was there. Of course, the consul general was there at the time. And, of course, whenever a national party holders convention where, where you're assigned, you're supposed to cover the meeting and report from it. And so--and so the consul general was supposed to do certainly the--all the political stuff and I did most of the economic stuff. But for some reasons of his own, he decided that, that, that as a Jew, he, he didn't want to attend, and so he sent me.$$So he'd send you, huh (laughter)?$$Uh-huh. And, and so the--so it, it was an open meeting. It was being held at the (unclear) or the--or the local convention center so anyone could come in. You know, they paid this nominal fee. And so, so I came there and paid my money, and then of course, I, I had the decision as to where to sit, and so my first inclination was to find some quiet corner, you know, to, to sit among all these Neo-Nazis sorta thing.$$(Laughter).$$And then, then I decided somewhat puckishly, you know, well, I might as well get, get hung for a sheep as a lamb, so I proceeded to the very center seat of the--of, of, of the convention hall and, and sat down. Of course, I was way ahead of most people coming in to see me--to--not to see me, to, to the--to the convention. And after a while, I, I became aware from, from the corner of my eyes that I was the subject of discussion, you know, by some people there, there in, in the--in the aisle sorta thing. And so--and then so eventually, this--a very diffident young man, you know--you know, came up and sat next to me, and, you know, asked me if, if I knew where I was, and so I said yeah, I'm at a--NPD, NPD meeting, sorta thing. And, and so I, I think he must've thought that I was there for a rock concert or something of the sort.$$(Laughter).$$And, and so, he squirmed a bit and, and then he said--and then he asked me, did I know anything about the NPD. I said, yes, I've--I know a lot about the NPD, you know, so I'm--I was joking, said it's one of my favorite organizations, you know (laughter). And so he squirmed a, a, a bit further sorta thing, and eventually left. And, and, and there, at that point, my, my, my nervousness left because obviously, they were more nervous about my being there than, than I was nervous about being there myself. But the funny part about it, of course, is that the place eventually filled up completely with, with the exception of two seats next to me, in front of me, and, and back of me. I was sort of a--of a donut hole--$$(Laughter).$$--in, in the middle of this whole convention sorta thing--$What happened, [HistoryMaker] Mr. [Ollie B.] Ellison [Sr.], after you were pulled over, what happened?$$When the, the soldier on the other side of the car after--when my wife [Lydia Armstrong Ellison] was trying to get out of the car to, to, to follow his instructions, he possibly mistook, you know, her move to reach for the latch as a move to the glove compartment. So he--so he, he put a round in his rifle and stuck it directly in my--in my wife's face. And, as I--as I said, this is a very ticklish moment with, with these, these young guys 'cause you, you never know whether they're gonna shoot or not sorta thing, so I had to handle this very warily, get, get, get over there and get in between them, you know, and, and show, you know, that, you know, that, that she met nothing wrong by, by, by trying to open the door, and so I finally got him calmed down. And so I usually avoid anger in, in my dealing with people, but the next morning, of course, I, I, I went both to the [U.S.] Embassy [Bangui, Central African Republic] the next morning and found out that in fact all people in my embassy had been harassed in the same way that, that--the previous night.$$And why do you think--why was this happening?$$When, when--as it turned out, there had, had been a rumor that, that people who were trying to, to pull off a cue- a, a coup were bringing arms into the country and, and, and that that was a, a, a foreign embassy who was doing this, and it was supposedly another African embassy that was doing this. Now, I don't know whether they could've assumed, you know, that since I was black I was from another African embassy or, or the fact that--I mean, you never know how these things get translated. They did see that I had diplomatic plates and, and so that was perhaps the, the reason enough. Now, of course, the other people on my staff were white and they were also being harassed and stopped that night. But any rate, so--$$What were some of the other racial incidents that took place when you were in Central African Republic?$$When, when, when--I was just getting this, I guess trying to, to, to bring it down. But any rate, I, I did raise a bit of hell the next morning and, and, and, in fact, apparently people in the--in the foreign minister--ministry realized, you know, that, that, that if, if one of the people had shot the wife of the--of an American diplomat, you know, that it would've been the, the wrong thing to do. And so the whole thing was, was put on ice, the troops were taken off of the, the street, and so, so I got the--that situation settled as well as the situation about [Albert] Lincoln settled sorta thing. And I ended up even getting a, a commendation from the department of--as to the way the thing was, was, was handled. And so--but any rate, when the [U.S.] ambassador [Arthur H. Woodruff] came back, I think he had--in my view, he had had perhaps thought, you know, I would fall on my face and this would be a reason to have me recalled and in fact I got a commendation out of it.