History was made when Pender County native, Mattie R. Sharpless, was nominated to be a United States Ambassador in 2001. This nomination, confirmed by the United States Senate as the U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic, made her the first female, and the only African American to have been appointed as Ambassador from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

On May 10, 2018, the State of North Carolina made history in honoring its very own Pender County native and trailblazer, Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless, by designating a portion of U.S. Highway 17 in her name for her career in foreign agricultural trade relations, and for having served in a variety of senior level positions in Washington, D.C. and abroad.


Ambassador Sharpless was born in 1943 to Mrs. Lecola Shepard Sharpless and the late Mr. James E. Sharpless, Sr., in Hampstead, NC. Sadly, her dear father passed away in 1954 when she was only 11 years old. Throughout her life, Ambassador Sharpless held firm to the beliefs instilled in her by her mother, family, church, community, and educators. While growing up in a poor, rural, farming area of Hampstead, she attended the one-­teacher, Sloop Point Elementary School in the Edgecombe Township, the Annandale School in Hampstead, and graduated in 1961 from the Pender County Training School in Rocky Point. After receiving an academic scholarship, Ambassador Sharpless continued her studies and graduated with a BS degree in Business Education from North Carolina College, now North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, NC. She later earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Economics from NCCU.

Because of the unconditional love, prayers, and support of her family, church, and community, her work ethics and tenacious drive for excellence, Ambassador Sharpless soared to extraordinary heights. She received numerous awards and the most notable accolades throughout her over 41-­year career of distinguished and honorable service as a U.S. diplomat and as a national and international public servant. Her awards include, but are not limited to, the 1986 Congressional Resolution by NC Senator Jesse Helms, 1990 USDA Yearbook of Outstanding Employees, 1998 Presidential Meritorious Award by President William Clinton, the Foreign Agricultural Service Woman of the Year Award, the USDA Superior Honor Award, 2002 Presidential Distinguished Service Award by President George W. Bush, the Boussimba/Molangue Primary School of the Congolese Refugee Camp, in the Central African Republic, named in her honor during the inauguration ceremony on World Refugee Day; the 2010 NCCU’s Inaugural Shepard Medallion Award, 2014 Lyndon B. Johnson Legendary Award for Lifetime Achievements, the 2014 induction as a Charter Member of the Metro DC Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the 2015 Oral History established in the U.S. Library of Congress, and as an Ambassador of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2015. Ambassador Sharpless is also a sponsoring author of two books, the “China, Africa, and the African Diaspora: Perspectives,” and, the soon to be published, “33 Gems: Wisdom for Living Pieces of Life’s Puzzle.”

From humble beginnings, Ambassador Sharpless has risen to the peak of her career and now enjoys the fruit of her labor, while continuing to serve the community and the nation through her involvement in various professional, humanitarian, and community organizations. These include, but are not limited to, the Trade Advisory Committee on Africa, where she served as a Charter member for over 10 years;; Golden Member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; the Association of Black American Ambassadors;; NCCU Alumni Association National and Lifetime Member;; President of the Board of Directors of the Town Square Towers Condominium, Inc., Washington, DC;; and was recently elected to the Board of Governors and Trustees of the DACOR House Foundation related to international and foreign affairs.

The historic Dedication Ceremony of the Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless Highway was  held on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. at the Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church, 55 Manhollow Church Road, Hampstead, North Carolina, a reception followed.

Rev. Dante’ A. Murphy and the Pender County Branch NAACP extend thanks to the Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church, the Edgecombe and Hampstead communities, the Town of Surf City, Pender County Commissioners, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and citizens from across the nation who played a part in the highway naming process honoring Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless.

 The journey began with general conversations regarding the lack of memorials and visible reminders about prominent blacks having roots in Pender County. Pender County Branch President and pastor of Manhollow Missionary Baptist was informed during an evening Bible study that the one room building next to the church had produced several prominent blacks who went on to lead extraordinary careers in government. Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless was one of the persons mentioned. On August 7, 2017, Rev. Murphy met before and presented a statement to the Pender County Commissioners on behalf of the Pender County NAACP and Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church to initiate the “Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless Highway” Project. The vetting process was completed on February 1, 2018 when the North Carolina Department of Transportation unanimously approved the naming of a five-mile stretch along Highway 17. The brief biographical sketch is a conglomerate of sources compiled by Angela Faison.