The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

The Honorable Theodore Britton, Jr.

Ambassador Theodore R. Britton Jr. was born on October 17, 1925 in North Augusta, South Carolina to Bessie B. and Theodore R. Britton, Sr. His family relocated to New York City in 1936. Britton left high school in January of 1944 to join the U. S. Marine Corps where he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After being discharged, he enrolled at New York University until the beginning of the Korean War. Britton was then called to active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps where he served until May of 1951. He then resumed his studies at New York University and graduated with his B.A. degree in banking and finance in February of 1952.

Britton worked as a mortgage officer and head of the mortgage department at Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association from 1955 to 1964. From there, he became president of the American Baptist Convention and a leader in the non-profit housing field. Britton was then invited to join the federal government by Harry Finger, who was head of Research and Technology in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Britton closed his offices in New York and Pennsylvania and decided to join HUD in 1971 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology. As the HUD official managing international research, his volunteer program for the U. S. Information Agency attracted favorable attention. Britton was nominated by President Gerald R. Ford to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and Grenada and as the U. S. Special Representative to Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia and St. Vincent on November 17, 1974. Britton was elected as vice-chair of the Group on Urban Affairs at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1971, and later as president. His resignation as Ambassador was accepted by President Jimmy Carter in May of 1977.

Upon retirement, Britton was honored by the City Councils of Newark, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. He presented with the Congressional Gold Medal on June 30, 2012 in recognition of his services with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Montford Point Marines. Britton is a Life Member of the Second Marine Division, Montford Point Marine Association, and the Association for Intelligence Officers. On March 2, 2013, he joined the Marine Corps Commandant and other officials as a U. S. Navy ship was christened to honor the Montford Point Marines. Britton has served as Honorary Consul General for the Republic of Albania since 2006. He is also the Honorary Chairman of Kristal University in Tirana, Albania where her was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree in 2009.

Britton was married in 1950 to the late Ruth B. A. Baker of Fort Worth, Texas. He is currently married to Vernell Elizabeth Stewart of Jacksonville, Florida.

Ambassador Theodore R. Britton was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 9, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.097

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/9/2013

Last Name

Britton

Maker Category
Middle Name

R.

Schools

High School of Commerce

New York University

American Savings & Loan Institute

Kristal University

Harlem Evening High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Theodore

Birth City, State, Country

Augusta

HM ID

BRI06

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

Equal opportunity means equal responsibility.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

10/17/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chili

Short Description

Sergeant and foreign ambassador The Honorable Theodore Britton, Jr. (1925 - ) served as the U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and Grenada and as the U. S. Special Representative to Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. On June 30, 2012, Britton was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his services with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Montford Point Marines.

Employment

National Housing Ministries

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

Delete

United States Department of State

Amer Baptist Conv

United Mutual Life Insurance

Carver Federal Savings & Loan

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:10932,229:12102,248:12492,253:13584,277:14520,294:15456,309:24285,398:40210,616:40678,624:41146,631:44860,651:45225,657:51795,805:53839,833:62535,882:63285,895:66960,947:69975,971:77362,1065:78074,1076:84354,1120:84816,1127:85201,1133:86972,1146:87434,1156:100117,1368:100701,1377:101358,1387:104424,1442:112774,1522:143606,1863:145550,1897:152302,2004:156410,2099:193950,2545:244355,3119:244679,3124:245003,3129:247919,3192:255700,3277:272680,3486:275720,3528:278760,3581:288586,3675:298220,3773$0,0:99272,1384:100224,1402:103012,1486:109504,1562:109952,1571:124263,1775:125721,1796:138033,2002:138924,2016:166034,2425:166580,2434:167126,2442:170558,2513:235764,3184:236948,3207:260556,3553:260891,3559:272410,3728:281171,3878:284430,3948
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Theodore R. Britton, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt.2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. gives historical background on the education system in the South

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. explains how his parents met and which parent's personality he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his high school teacher, Mr. L. Walter Stevens

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his jobs in high school and the civil rights activist, Dr. Channing Tobias

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his high school courses and wanting to visit France

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his grades in high school and the 1940s labor movement

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his plans following his high school graduation

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about joining the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his experience after arrival at Montford Point in North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his boot camp training

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes the treatment of blacks in the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about drill instructors in the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about graduating from boot camp and whites' reaction to black soldiers fighting overseas in World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his experience on the U.S. Navy Ship, "Sea Perch" and the Solomon Islands

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his tour of duty in Guadalcanal

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his experiences while at Camp Paukukalo in Hawaii

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about returning to the United States in 1946

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his involvement with the Society for the Study of Negro History in New York, pt.1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his involvement with the Society for the Study of Negro History in New York, pt.2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his involvement in the Greater Harlem Christian Youth Council

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. explains why he pursued a career in banking and finance

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his attendance at New York University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about African American singer, Paul Robeson, pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. speaks about his friend John L. Loeb, Jr., pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. speaks about his friend John L. Loeb, Jr., pt.2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about African American singer, Paul Robeson, pt.2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes the political climate of the early 1950s

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his involvement in Republican politics

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his career at Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. shares highlights from his career at Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association, pt.1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. shares highlights from his career at Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association, pt.2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his work at the American Baptist Convention

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his recognition by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1969

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about being invited to speak for before the U.S. Information Agency and his nomination for ambassador

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. remembers learning about the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. reminisces about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about important African American leaders of the late 1960s and minority business

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses African American civil rights leader, James Forman

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about former President Richard Nixon's black capitalism initiative

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. speaks about African American diplomats, Horace Dawson and Edward R. Dudley, pt.1

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. speaks about African American diplomats, Horace Dawson and Edward R. Dudley, pt.2

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. explains how former Senator Strom Thurmond helped him become an ambassador

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his ambassadorship to Barbados and Grenada, and meeting Queen Elizabeth II

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about a special moment he had with former President Richard Nixon

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about columnist, Jack Anderson and entertainer, Danny Kaye

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. gives highlights from his career a as chief admission ambassador to Barbados and Grenada, pt.1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. gives highlights from his career a as chief admission Ambassador to Barbados and Grenada, pt.2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his experience as president of the United Mutual Life Insurance Company

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his position as head of international research for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. explains how photos he took of a police incident in London were used in a trial, pt.1

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. explains how photos he took of a police incident in London were used in a trial, pt.2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. recalls his testimony before the Development Policy in the Caribbean Committee in 1988

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. recounts his international work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, pt.1

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. recounts his international work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, pt.2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about the Association of Black American Ambassadors, pt.1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about the Association of Black American Ambassadors, pt.2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his professional activities during Bill Clinton's presidency and being Counsel General to Albania

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. reflects upon his professional legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about having a temperament for diplomacy and taking advantage of educational opportunities

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community and shares his regrets

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses his diplomatic work with Albania

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. discusses People to People International and the perks of being an ambassador

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

3$5

DATitle
Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in New York City
Theodore R. Britton, Jr. describes the treatment of blacks in the U.S. Marine Corps
Transcript
All right, well, let's see. Well, what about New York City? What are your memories of New York City? You were ten [years old] when you moved there.$$Oh, boy, New York City was something, was a real trip. First of all, by the time I reached New York City, although I was 10 years old, I was already in the seventh grade. Whether I was smart or whether they liked me or whatever you--I had been promoted on, you know, quite regularly. Anyway, I, my mother enrolled me at a school in Harlem, P.S. 157. And they determined that children from the South weren't as smart as children from the North. So they put me back to fourth grade, three years, three years. Well, in those days, you didn't challenge authority, especially, if you came from the South. And that'll be something I tough on, later on about Marine Corp life. My parents accepted it, and what, as it was, almost three months later, my father lost his job because the recession came in 1936. Work was stopped on the subway, and people were fired. So he lost his job, and it became necessary to find a new place to live. We had a cousin who owned a little store down in 62nd Street in Manhattan on the lower, on the West side of Manhattan, about mid-Manhattan. She found a job there in the next building for a janitor. And my father took the janitor's job, and we moved down there. This was an entirely different thing. Now, for the first time in my life I was in an integrated type of setting. There were whites around in the block and near the block and so forth. Plus, the schools were integrated. And, again, for some reason, the teachers loved me. I did make some, make up some--a year or two in terms of school age. And throughout my school career, the teachers took a special interest in me. One of my cousins who is still alive tells me that when they were, when we were in class together, at the end of the Christmas or some of the holidays, everybody in the class knew that they were going to get something. The teacher would always bring them gifts. But they always knew that I was going to get something special. Now, I never thought of it. It must have gone straight over my head, but they were always assured that I was gonna get something special. The teachers loved me. Yeah, I went to school in 59th Street, which is right across from what's now John Jay College of Criminal Justice.$$What was the name of the school--$$P.S. 141.$$Okay.$$We had numbers. And from there, after the seventh grade, I went down to the P.S. 69, which is on 54th Street and 6th Avenue. It was about that time, by the way, that economics suddenly began to teach me something. My parents were on home relief. That's what they called it in those days. Welfare was still a new term in the future. And there wasn't much--by the way, Jim, James Dumpson became the first commissioner in the New York City government. He became the secretary of--no, the Commissioner of Welfare. And anyway, as I said, I--we were on home relief, but it didn't give me enough to take care of my needs. For example, when I was leaving P.S. 141, all of the boys were dressed up in different things. But I didn't have any special things. So I began to shine shoes for a living. And now, if you ever know anything about Manhattan, on the West side of Manhattan is where all of the major ships from Europe would dock. There were the Piers. The Kinnard Line which was British, the German line, the French line, the Italian line and others, Sweden line. So I began shining shoes, and within a week or so, I was giving money to the family to help them along. And to that date--it must have been about 1938, I've never had to ever ask my family for anything, nor anybody else. I've always taken care of myself.$In fact, it got many, some of them in trouble because they acted as if they wouldn't take any stuff off anyone. One of our sort of icons in the military, Edgar Huff, was a sergeant. He went home in Alabama and he was arrested for impersonating a Marine. And the colonel in charge of the camp who was in charge--who had, was from South Carolina--from Virginia, he had attended the Citadel in South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, personally drove down to Alabama and got him out of jail. And I have stories of my friend, Ed Fiser (ph.) who is up in the home in Massachusetts now recuperating from the amputation, who was sitting waiting for a bus to take him to Charlotte [North Carolina] so that he could get a train going to New Orleans [Louisiana]. And in the course of it--to Raleigh [North Carolina], I'm sorry. In the course of it, this big Marine came in who had been fighting in Guadalcanal and said, "When did they put you guys in the Marine Corps?" And he said, "Well, there's a lot of 'em over there." He said, we have a huge camp over there. And he said, I didn't know they had black Marines, and they got on talking. And he said, well, by the way, why aren't you getting on the bus? And he said, well, they take only whites first, and afterwards, they take us. And each time the bus gets filled up, they pull out, and so that's why I've been missing two buses so far. He said, "You're ready to go?". And he said, "Yeah". So this white Marine called the station manager over and said, listen, you see that man. He said, when the next bus goes out of here, I wanna see his ass on one of them seats or your brains on this floor, you hear? He's a Marine. And when the next bus pulled out, there was Fiser sitting on his seat, headed out. And this began something that I've begun to kind of retrace my steps and see how white Marines began to befriend the black Marines. For example, the buses, bus drivers at some times would become very arbitrary and would refuse to take the guys back to the camp. Now, this could have been serious trouble for them, except that when white Marines found out about it, they would throw the white drivers off the bus, take over the bus and drive the black guys back to camp. Yeah, and this happened so consistently. One night, one of the fellows had been mistreated in Jacksonville [North Carolina], the little town there. It was very racist, and so the guys had decided that they were gonna go into the town and tear the town apart. We had tanks at that time, plus cannons and machine guns and everything else. And the colonel came down in his nightshirt, and he said, boys, he said, please don't do it. It won't help. And the word got around that if they did, they would get the colonel in trouble. And the last thing the guys wanted to do was to lose this colonel. They loved him so much. So on that basis, they broke it up and went back. I've heard a lot of stories about some of the guys being mistreated and rough. I always said the Marine Corps was very democratic. It treated everybody like dogs.$$Or maggots really (laughter).$$Yeah, yeah (laughter). So I never, for some reason, I never--the extremes on either one never made me feel bad or demoralized, and the extremes on the other side never made me feel too exhilarated. And over the years, I've begun to conclude that people are people, and there's no such thing as the perfect one or that someone's extremely bad or extremely good because one of the people who did so much for me was a man named Senator Strom Thurmond, who asked me to help him to become adjusted to the Twenty-First Century. He had a young wife, of course, a young daughter.$$Now, that's a story that comes up later, right, but--$$Yes, yes, yes--$$About the--(simultaneous)--$$--and I've had so many other people as I said, who treated me so royalty. I'm not sure I ever deserved it, but nevertheless, that's the treatment I got.