Carolyn Payton; First Woman, First Black to Head Peace Corps

From the Washington Post

Carolyn Payton, a retired Howard University director of counseling services who was the first woman and the first black person to serve as director of the Peace Corps, died April 11 at her home in Washington after a heart attack. She was 75.

President Jimmy Carter nominated Payton, a psychologist and a veteran Peace Corps staffer, to head the volunteer assistance organization in 1977.

She started in the Peace Corps as a field assessment officer in 1964 and later became an overseas country director, supervising 130 volunteers involved in education projects on eight islands in the eastern Caribbean. At the time, she was one of two women who were country directors.


But her year in the top job was plagued by interagency fighting and lack of political clout. Her goals of increasing technical skills training, developing good volunteer assignments, upgrading staff support and improving language training ran into budget constraints.

She clashed with Sam Brown, then director of ACTION, which was created in 1971 to administer the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America and other volunteer service programs.

Payton resigned in November 1978, citing, in part, policy differences between ACTION and the Peace Corps.

She rejoined Howard University, where she had been an assistant professor of psychology from 1959 to 1964. After leaving the Peace Corps, she was Howard’s dean of counseling and career development.

She served as director of university counseling services and helped develop an internship training center before retiring in 1995.

Payton was born in Norfolk, Va. She graduated from Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. She received a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in counseling and school administration from Columbia University.


She was also a professor of psychology at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., Virginia State University and what is now Elizabeth City (N.C.) State University.

She is survived by her sister, Jean Robertson Scott of Washington.