Elliott Skinner was an anthropologist who started his academic career later in life. Originally from Trinidad, Skinner immigrated to the United States during World War II and enlisted in the army. After the war ended, Skinner was granted American citizenship and enrolled in New York University. He continued his education at Columbia University, where he obtained his master’s and doctorate degrees in anthropology. During his schooling, Skinner’s research focused on ethnic interactions in British Guiana; however, his research focus later switched to West Africa. He moved to Burkina Faso to work; learned More, the common language; and later he was nominated as the U.S. Ambassador to the Upper Volta region by President Lyndon Johnson. This was a unique appointment, because Skinner was only the 11th Black American named as a U.S. Ambassador and also the only ambassador who conducted research in a country prior to appointment.
Skinner’s other work includes teaching African ethnology at New York University and Columbia University. He was also the first Black American to chair an Anthropology Department in the United States, when he was appointed chair at Columbia University. While he taught, Skinner continued to research the people of Upper Volta and published multiple books on the region. He also published books on how Africa has influenced U.S. foreign policy.
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