Ollie Benjamin Ellison was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on February 23, 1927. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was the first African American attorney in Oklahoma. His father was the chairman of the Negro Democratic Party and is credited for turning the black vote from Republican to Democratic. Ellison earned his high school diploma from Douglas High School in 1944.
He attended Lincoln University in Missouri from 1944 until 1949, earning his B.A. degree in biology. While a student at Lincoln, he was a member of the football team and pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. During his junior year, in 1946, Ellison was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Korea. In 1951, Ellison was sent to Intelligence School and became an intelligence officer. He was later sent to Berlin to serve as the first African American officer on a unit assignment.
In 1952, Ellison began his Foreign Service career, but wasn’t assigned to a post in Washington, D.C. until 1958. His first foreign assignment was as a visa officer in Cairo, Egypt. During his service he met many prominent African Americans, including poet Maya Angelou and civil rights activist Malcolm X. From 1966 until 1977, Ellison’s Foreign Service duties took him to Germany, South Africa and Zaire. Ellison served in Zaire during the acclaimed Ali-Foreman fight. While serving in South Africa, Ellison was responsible for co-authoring a State Department report highlighting the employment practices of American firms in South Africa. His research was published in its entirety in the Johannesburg Star. Information from that document was later used to compile the “Sullivan Report,” a paper praising the Nixon Administration for assisting South Africa. From 1977 until 1988, Ellison served at posts in Thailand, the Central African Republic and Geneva.
Ellison officially retired from the State Department in 1989, but continues to work for the government as an international affairs consultant.