Looking Back at Black History in Everett

Walter Carrington U.S. Ambassador

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first in a month-long series about noteworthy black Americans in Everett, taken from vignettes written by former City Clerk Michael Matarazzo in his book ‘They Came from Everett.’ The histories of many black residents of Everett might surprise readers, as many of their stories have never been fully told. There are judges, former slaves who become hotel operators, football players and a former ambassador. It is hoped our readers enjoy these pieces as much as we did. Matarazzo’s book is available at bookblues.com.

There is no way one can capture the spirit of Walter Carrington by the written word. His resume, while certainly impressive, does not tell the full story. His own words better express this man’s heart and most of the quotes are from his essay, ‘Remembrance of an Atypical Black American Boyhood’ published by the Harvard Book Store in ‘Paige Leaves: Essays Inspired by New England.’

Walter Charles Carrington was born July 24, 1930, in New York City,  New York, to Marjorie Irene Hayes Carrington and Walter Randolph Carrington, an immigrant from Barbados. His mother and father divorced and Walter and his sister came to live with his father’s family on Cedar Terrace in Everett.

At the time Everett was a predominantly Italian- Irish community. In his essay, ‘Remembrance of an Atypical Black American Boyhood’ he recalled, “My younger sister, Marilyn, and I were the only black kids on the block in a town that was a sociological anomaly. I would learn many years later, while a Commissioner on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, that an Urban League study had found my Everett to have been the least segregated city of its size in the country. So assimilated did I, as a youngster, become to my heavily Italian neighborhood that I could curse in Italian, with a Sicilian accent, almost before I could in English.”

Carrington was very popular throughout his public school years, being elected vice president of his class at both Parlin Junior High and Everett High School. This puzzled Carrington as he quipped in that same essay, “I was a popular kid in a sports-obsessed town who was not an athlete. Our high school football teams were legendary. They won more state and national championships than any other. They were memorialized in Look Magazine. The basketball team was a state power house. Jocks were the most popular group in school. Yet I, who excelled, not on the field but on the stage as a debater and orator, was each year elected Vice President of a class of five hundred of whom but five were black.”

Carrington graduated from Everett High in 1948, and at encouragement of his Everett High guidance counselor took the entrance exam and was admitted to Harvard. “I often read in the national black newspapers tales of horror about white high school guidance counselors steering promising black students away from college careers to vocational ones. I was blessed to have one who insisted that I should settle for nothing but the best. With his encouragement I got into Harvard.”

Carrington was one of only four black students at Harvard University at the time. At Harvard, he founded the first Harvard chapter of the NAACP, and, as its Youth Council delegate, he was also vice chair of the Students for Stevenson organization when Adlai Stevenson campaigned in 1952 as the Democratic candidate for President. Carrington graduated from Harvard with a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree in 1952.

Like many young men at the time, Carrington was drafted into the United States Army in 1955, where he served as a clerk typist in Germany. Eventually being assigned to the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). After his discharge, he enrolled in Harvard  Law School, earning his J.D. degree in 1958. He practiced law in Boston and served on the three-member Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) becoming, at the age of 27, the youngest person to be appointed a Commissioner in the Commonwealth’s history. At the MCAD, he was in charge of the case which led to the Boston Red Sox, the last remaining all-white Major League Baseball team, hiring their first black player – Pumpsie Green.

It was the establishment of the Peace Corps in 1961 and Carrington’s appointment as one of its first overseas Country Directors that began the historic relationship between Walter Carrington and the continent of Africa. Walter served 10 years in the Corps that included directing programs in Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Senegal and rising to the position of Regional Director for Africa.

After serving with distinction in the Peace Corps, the following decade saw Carrington serve as executive vice president of the Africa-American Institute, and as a member of Africare, He also taught at Marquette University in  Wisconsin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Washington College in  Maryland and served as a consultant at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

In 1980, Carrington served for a year as President Jimmy Carter’s Ambassador to Senegal. In 1981, he was named director of the Department of International Affairs at Howard University. In 1991 Carrington, along with Edwin Dorn, published, Africa in the Minds and Deeds of Black American Leaders. 

In 1993, Carrington, who had served as a senior advisor on Africa to the Clinton Transitional Team, was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Ambassador to Nigeria. The newly-appointed Ambassador was to assume his post just as the military was voiding the democratic election recently held in that country.

Still, his appointment began on a positive note for it was during the very first diplomatic function that he attended as ambassador that he met Dr. Arese Ukpoma, an intelligent and impressive physician. She would become Mrs. Carrington in 1995, while continuing to add to her already stellar record of service to humanity.

During his tenure in Nigeria, Carrington consistently challenged the Nigerian government on the questions of democracy, human rights, and drug trafficking. The dictatorship of Sani Abacha was firmly committed to discrediting Ambassador Carrington and blamed him for every shortcoming in U.S.-Nigerian relations. The attitude of the Nigerian government, however, did not deter the Ambassador from standing firm in defense of the values that he held so dear.

The situation was so bad that even a farewell reception held in his honor was interrupted by armed police who threatened to shoot one guest and ordered all foreigners, including the Ambassador to leave at once. This shocked many in the diplomatic corps, but not Ambassador Carrington who saw the dictatorship as a self-serving government that was wasting a talented population and vast natural resources for its own gain.

After the fall of the dictatorship, the Nigerian government surprised Carrington by naming the diplomatic area of Lagos after him. Today, Water Carrington Crescent is the location of more than 12 diplomatic missions.

In 2017, Everett celebrated its 125th Anniversary as a city. Upon learning that he was to be the Grand Marshall of the Anniversary Parade, Carrington with his trademark humility told the Everett Independent newspaper, “I was really overwhelmed when I learned I would be Grand Marshal because I still have a soft spot for Everett, because without Everett, I might not have become the person I became had I grown up in another place that wasn’t so accommodating,” he said. “To be remembered and honored like this is more than I can put to words. It’s a great honor to me.”

Accomplished, intelligent, humble, principled, honest and loyal – it is Everett that is honored to call Ambassador Walter C. Carrington, a favorite son.

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