Vernie Merze Tate


Vernie Merze Tate


Foreign Affairs Scholar


Vernie Merze Tate was an African American scholar of international affairs.


Amy French

Birth Date



Blanchard, Michigan, USA

Death Date



Scholar and diplomat

Biographical Text

Born in Blanchard, Michigan, Merze Tate moved from home at the age of 15 and worked as a domestic servant to attend and graduate from high school in 1922. An excellent student, she was the first African American to win the Hinman Oratorical Contest (1921) for her speech, The Negro in the World War. A quote from the speech gives insight into race relations in early 20th century America, "Over two million blacks from Africa, Asia, and America fought for democracy [in that conflict]. Many fought like tigers and became heroes. Whole regiments were decorated for bravery. They died with honor, but they still gained little reward for their service. I plead with this audience and the rest of America to give the Negro race proper recognition. Please forget the differences between white and colored. Respect the Negro's good qualities." (Bernard-Hollins, Michigan History, November/December 2014, p. 36)

After saving money for tuition, Tate graduated from Kalamazoo's Western State Normal School (1927), but due to her race she could not find a teaching job in Michigan. She ended up teaching at a segregated school in Indianapolis. During summers, she earned a Master's degree from Columbia University's Teachers Colllege. With funds from a scholarship, Tate then moved to England (1931) and attended Oxford University. By this time, Tate spoke five languages and was fluent in German. She attended classes at the University of Berlin for a while, but left Germany when Hitler became president (she had heard him speak before and was concerned with his sentiments). She returned to England and was the first African American to graduate from Oxford University (Bachelor's degree in Social Studies, 1935). After returning to the States, Tate earned a Ph.D. in Political Sceince from Radcliffe College (1941); she was the first black female to earn that degree.

Tate worked in varioius positions in academia throughout her doctoral program. During that time, she wrote two academically acclaimed books, The Disarmament Illusion: The Movement for a Limitation of Armaments to 1907 (New York:MacMillan ad Co., 1942) and The United States and Armaments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948).

In 1948, she was one of three Americans who represented America at the United Nations' Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. As a result of a Fulbright Scholarship in 1950, she became a traveling scholar in international affairs. A prolific writer, the U.S. State Department commissioned her to write travelogues of the places that she visited. Tate won many awards for her scholarship and published many books and dozens of articles. She used her personal experiences in diplomacy to teach students about foreign affairs. Tate died in 1996 and was buried in her home town. Her legacy speaks to the power of education as a passport to success.


Bernard-Hollins, Sonya. "Merze Tate: Citizen of the World." Michigan History, November/December 2014, 35-39.

Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.

Tate, Merze. "Australia and Self-Determination for New Guinea." The Australian Journal of Politics and History 17 (August 1971): 246-59.

_____. "Recent Constitutional Developments in Papua and New Guinea." Pacific Affairs 44 (Fall 1971): 421-27.

_____. Hawaii: Reciprocity Or Annexation ( Michigan State University Press, 1968).

_____. The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom: A Political History (New Haven, 1965).

_____. The United States and Armaments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948).

_____. The Disarmament Illusion: The Movement for a Limitation of Armaments to 1907 (New York:MacMillan ad Co., 1942).

Tate was interviewed for the "Black Women Oral History Project," (The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress).


Date Added
November 23, 2014
Local (Michigan)
Item Type
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Amy French, “Vernie Merze Tate,” Women Who Dared, accessed December 9, 2023,