SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Louisianians are mourning the loss of James A. Joseph, a Southern University distinguished alumnus and the former U.S. Ambassador who was the first ambassador to present credentials to South African President Nelson Mandela.

The Opelousas native was appointed as ambassador to South Africa by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1996 and served until 2000.

OTD December 5 - Nelson Mandela_2994992812967408-159532
(Nelson Mandela; image: OTD, Dec. 5)

Joseph graduated in 1956 from Southern University and A&M College with a bachelor’s degree in political science before earning a divinity degree from Yale University.

From 1977 until 1981, Joseph was Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“His commitment and contributions to the academy and leadership development were immeasurable. Ambassador Joseph’s life of service has been a gift to this nation and the world,” said president-chancellor of the Southern University System, Dennis J. Shields.

Joseph was quite active during his days at Southern, acting as class president, becoming a member of the debate team and ROTC, and was initiated into the Beta Sigma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

An endowed chair has since been named after him at Southern.

South African President Thabo Mbeki awarded Joseph the Order of Good Hope in 1999, the highest honor for a citizen of another country.

James A. Joseph (Image: Southern University / Duke University)

He was elected to the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in 2008 and honored by the U.S. Peace Corps in 2010.

Joseph has received 19 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

The ordained minister spent most of his life working towards civil rights and social justice through roles in business, higher education, philanthropy, and government. He founded the United States-Southern Africa Center for leadership and Public Values at Duke and the University of Cape Town and was a leader in residence for the Hart Leadership Program.

Joseph was an advisor to four Presidents and a professor emeritus of public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

He died on Friday, Feb. 17 at the age of 88.