In the early 1970s, he attended Louisiana State University and encountered a “hostile environment” where he faced harassment and racism.
After a decade-long career in the State Department, he was forced out at the start of the Trump administration.
“In the years I worked in government, I was always shocked that we would only be in America where we are today. Where life can be hard and cruel, but there is hope in the fight,” Thomas-Greenfield said. on Tuesday after Biden presented it at an event in Wilmington, Delaware.
Current and former U.S. foreign officials have praised Thomas-Greenfield as an ideal candidate for restoring the position of the United States and restoring the credibility of a respectable multilateral institution. Over the past four years, the Trump administration has severed ties with a number of key UN agencies, such as the start of funding for its withdrawal from the World Health Organization and the resignation of the Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Council, and has often been annoyed by the organization.
Foreign service officers speaking to CNN welcomed the choice of a career diplomat for the role. Given the State Department’s reputation for being “pale, male and Yale,” especially among his leadership, several said Biden had chosen an important message for black women.
“It’s a big deal if a black woman leads the transition and is likely to lead the U.S. mission in New York,” one senior diplomat told CNN. “And to have a black woman Trump fired is even more of a statement.”
Thomas-Greenfield began his career in the Foreign Service in 1982. During his 35-year tenure, he served as Director-General of the Foreign Service, serving as Ambassador to Nigeria, and working in Geneva, Pakistan, Kenya, the Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica. and was a chief diplomat in the Office of African Affairs.
He retired in 2017 after being ousted from the class under the leadership of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and joining the Albright Stonebridge Group as senior vice president and practice director for Africa.
“He’s a real professional and a really good and decent human being, and I think we haven’t had that kind of trait at the leadership levels in the last few years,” said Lewis Lukens, a former career ambassador.
A current diplomat who knows Thomas-Greenfield called this work a “brilliant choice,” adding that he left the State Department as a “beloved” figure.
Retired Ambassador Ronald Neumann, president of the U.S. Academy of Diplomacy, of which Thomas-Greenfield is a member, told CNN he was “doing very well” for the UN ambassador.
He also noted that he has “clear confidence” in the Biden team, as he will also serve as head of the Foreign Ministry’s Agency review team during the transition. He contacted the State Department’s transition team on Monday night after the General Services Directorate decided that Biden could begin the transition process, a senior State Department official who knew about the transition said.
“The challenges we face – global epidemic, global economy, global climate crisis, mass migration and extreme poverty, social justice – are relentless and interconnected,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “But they’re not insurmountable if America leads the way.”
He also reflected on his parents, who he said “gave him and his brothers everything.”
“I know how proud they would be for this day,” she said.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.