Adrienne O’Neal

Adrienne O’Neal

Adrienne S. O’Neal is a retired U.S. Ambassador who began her career with the Department of State in 1983. In the course of her 34-year career, she served in six foreign countries:  Italy; Argentina; Mozambique; Brazil; Portugal; and Cape Verde. Adrienne’s Washington assignments include key positions in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and the Bureau of African Affairs. Other domestic assignments she held are Deputy Press Secretary to the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Diplomat-in-Residence at the University of Michigan. Adrienne’s final assignment was U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cape Verde in West Africa.

Adrienne was born in Durham, North Carolina, but moved to Birmingham, AL at the tender age of 2 years. In Birmingham she attended Wilkerson elementary school and Phillips High School. She finished High School in New Orleans, LA. Adrienne is a graduate of Spelman College where she earned a B.A. degree in Spanish Language and Business Administration. She continued to earn a Master’s of Modern Language in Spanish Language and Literature at Middlebury College. Although Adrienne was awarded All But Dissertation (ABD) status in Spanish and Portuguese Literature at the University of Minnesota, she did not complete her PH.D before she embarked upon her diplomatic career with the State Department.

Ambassador O’Neal currently resides in Chevy Chase, MD in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area.

My childhood showed me the best and the worst of human relations

In 1963, my family and I lived on the North side of Birmingham, on the infamous “Dynamite Hill.” My father was Executive Vice President and Manager of Citizen’s Federal Savings and Loan Association, the city’s sole black owned financial institution. My mother was a teacher and administrator at Miles College, the local Historically Black College (HBCU). My parents shielded my sister and me from the civil rights struggle as long as they could. For example, when a bomb went off in the night, my mother would say, “That was a truck backfiring. Go back to sleep.” And when we would drink from water fountains labeled, “White,” while shopping downtown, she would pretend not to notice, and call us quietly to her side. Ours was a happy childhood, despite the tension, violence and turmoil brewing around us.

Education was extremely important in our household. My father had earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a Law Degree at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) through the GI Bill. He and my mother met at NCCU in the late 1940s and were married after they both graduated. In 1963, my mother had an opportunity to pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of Indiana on scholarship. My parents decided she would go to Bloomington on her own for a year with my sister and me in tow to complete the course work. We left my father in Birmingham and moved to Indiana late summer, 1963.