He became one of the country's most prominent journalists of color, and the U.S. ambassador to Finland to boot.

But seven decades ago, Carl Rowan was a journeyman reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune after serving in World War II and getting a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. The paper sent the McMinnville, Tenn., native on a 6,000-mile journey through the Jim Crow South to show readers what life was like for Black citizens there.

"How Far From Slavery?" — a powerful 18-part series that he subsequently turned into a book — was a "sensation and made Rowan's career," notes a PBS documentary premiering Tuesday night that relates how President John F. Kennedy recruited the writer for a State Department job.

Here is a sampling of Rowan's dispatches from the road for readers of the Minneapolis Tribune. Excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity. A note of caution: Rowan was repeatedly confronted with racial slurs, including the "N-word," which he included in his newspaper reports. While uncomfortable, the language he chose shows the tenor of those times, so the Star Tribune has left the word in.

Editor's note: If you're interested in reading more of Rowan's work as it appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune, Newspapers.com has opened its digital archives with free access through Monday, Feb. 21. Search for "Carl Rowan" and "Minneapolis Tribune."

Feb, 26, 1951: There are many changes in the south — social and economic changes. Southerners already speak with pride of "The New South."

Is there really a new south for the Negro? Five minutes across the Mason and Dixon Line answered that. At the Louisville, Ky., airport I went to a candy stand. One white soldier was there and the attendant waited on him. By this time other whites reached the stand. The attendant passed me going down the counter and waited on whites. When she passed me going up the counter, I walked away.

As I drove through cracker-barrel hamlets and along highways that snaked across fields laden with shocks of dead cornstalks and cotton plants browned by winter's chill, I realized that I had come face to face with doubt. Doubt as to which filling station would allow me to buy gasoline and also use the toilet. Doubt as to which restaurant would sell me food — even to take out.

I would have to remember to wear a tie on the bus from Nashville to McMinnville — in this area a Negro fares better if he looks educated and willing to demand the few rights he possesses. I would have to remember NOT to wear a tie in several small towns in Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana — a Negro still can get killed in these towns for "dressing and acting like white folks."

Feb. 28: McMinnville is what her Negro citizens call a "good southern town." They mean that for a quarter-century there have been no lynchings, no race riots. Policemen do not "pick on" Negro neighborhoods. There are no cross burnings, no people shouting in the streets that all Negroes must be shipped to Africa.

But peace stays with McMinnville today because "no Negro in his right mind" would show up at the city swimming pool with trunks and the intention of swimming.

March 2, Alcoa, Tenn.: The Adge Shockley family knows what the "new, industrial south" means to the Negro. The Shockleys live in a comfortable but unpretentious home which they are buying. They have a private indoor toilet, running water, electric lights and a heating system adequate for east Tennessee winters. Shockley's children are well-dressed, well-fed and they attend school regularly.

Early in 1942 Shockley made the decision that thousands of Negroes are now making: to get out of places like McMinnville. Someone told him that the Aluminum Company of America was hiring Negroes at its war-booming plant here. Shockley averages about $60 a week now. Were he in McMinnville, his best job would be at a lumber mill where he would get the government-required 75 cents an hour.

March 3: I asked Federal Judge J. Waties Waring [of] Charleston, S.C., if the decline in the number of lynchings indicated significant Negro gains toward equality before the law.

"The south has become too smart to have lynchings anymore," Judge Waring replied. "Policemen beat Negroes to death and swear the prisoners attacked them."

But the fact that the south now considers lynchings a shameful stigma is progress.

March 5, Milledgeville, Ga.: There were no newspapers in the "colored" waiting room so I walked into the white waiting room. I had my arm extended with the nickel when a voice boomed: "Boy! This ain't the colored waiting room."

I looked over my shoulder, saw the station master walking toward me. "Yes, I know," I answered, trying to be casual.

"Well, what're you doing in here? he demanded.

"I'm buying a paper," I said, again offering my nickel to a woman who had her hand extended.

"Don't take his money," the station master ordered.

The woman quickly closed her hand, pointed at me and began to shout, almost hysterically: "No, no, no, you got no business in here."

"According to your separate but equal theory," I said to the station master, "I should be able to buy anything in there that I can buy in here. There are no papers in there."

"Well, you'll have to go back and let the redcap come and get a paper," he explained.

"He's darker than I am and I've got the nickel — what's the logic there?" I argued.

"He's in uniform," was the reply.

"Suppose I were in the uniform of the United States Navy?"

"You'd still have to go where niggers belong."

I swallowed hard, but still not angered, asked: "If your segregation system or democracy had to fall, which would you uphold?"

"Goddammit, I just follow orders." He stared at the camera around my neck and snapped: "You ain't in New York. You're just another black nigger in Georgia."

March 10, Birmingham, Ala.: I have tried to find just one aspect of Birmingham life not dominated by a segregation decree. I have failed.

I strolled downtown and peered into restaurants and cafes where my entry would have brought arrest. Yet, the waiters, waitresses, cooks and dishwashers — all the help except the person at the cash register — were Negroes.

"Ain't it silly," ventured the cook at one place. "I make the biscuits with my black hands. Colored waitresses drag their sleeves in the gravy and stick their fingers in the coffee. That's just mellow fine. But any one of us is too black, too dirty or too something to sit in there and eat."

March 15, Norman, Okla.: Two years ago they built a bonfire in this little college town, and it wasn't by way of cheering a great University of Oklahoma football team. A few students were burning what copies they could find of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution. It was their way of protesting against admission of Negro students.

Today, I walk around this campus and what I see is no different from what I have seen at the University of Minnesota. Negro and white people walk to class together, chatting as they go. They sit and eat together in the Student Union building. They work together in the laboratories.

In this atmosphere, I can say that for the first time since I crossed the Mason and Dixon Line I am able to relax completely.

March 16, Oklahoma City: I just won an argument with a railroad conductor and a plainclothes policeman who tried to force me into a Jim Crow coach. One sentence by the conductor lingers on: "Give him a gold car of his own and he still wouldn't want to move into it!"

In his way, the conductor was voicing an opinion on one of the "big" questions in the race problem: "What does the Negro want?"

There is no single answer. I have heard near-impoverished Negroes say: "I don't want social equality. What I want is opportunity — food, clothing and shelter for my family." The middle-class Negro wants economic equality — the same pay for the same work, the same job for the same ability, the same promotion for the same industriousness.

But what one thing is it that all these Negroes want? I think it is dignity.

A Negro in a hovel can achieve a measure of dignity by knowing his children are clothed, fed and sheltered. A middle-class Negro achieves a measure of dignity by seeing his labor well-rewarded and by participating in his government. The high-class Negro achieves dignity by knowing he can climb the highest hill in the land and be seen as an American — not a Negro.

March 17, Louisville: I cannot say the end is in sight, but perhaps it is the beginning of the end. In my return to the south, I challenged it, and often I won.

At times, too, I lost. And the losses are part of the picture — a 6,000-mile picture of new optimism and old despair.

The American Diplomat
What: Documentary about how Carl Rowan and other Black officials broke racial barriers at the State Department.
When: 8 p.m. Tue., 2 a.m. Wed., 4 p.m. Sun.
Where: TPT, Ch. 2 and the PBS video app.