By Monica Ann Schager
The American consulate in Lyon joined the town hall of Saint-Etienne for the inauguration of William Hunt Square in March 2022. Saint-Etienne is a city of nearly 200,000 people in central France, southwest of Lyon. Hunt served as U.S. consul to Saint-Etienne from 1906 to 1926, a remarkable span of 20 years, which included the first World War.
The son of an enslaved woman, Hunt broke barriers by becoming one of the first few Black diplomats stationed in Europe during the early 20th century—a time when Black communities in the United States were still facing overwhelming injustice. As a diplomat, Hunt’s career is remarkable in and of itself, but the fact that he was a Black man, born around the time of the Civil War, underscores how exceptional his life story really was.
Hunt became incredibly integrated into the Saint-Etienne community. Fluent in French, he took an active part in the city’s cultural and sporting activities, eventually becoming president of the city’s rugby club. He even organized athletic competitions to raise money for local soldiers’ families in 1916. Hunt’s work during his two decades in Saint-Etienne is a pioneering example of what is now recognized as sports diplomacy, bringing people and countries closer together via a shared love of sports.
While there is no longer a consul in Saint-Etienne, American Presence Post Lyon represents the United States in Central France, which includes the cities of Saint-Etienne, Grenoble, and Clermont-Ferrand. Having a large square in central Saint-Etienne with the photograph and biography of William Hunt for all to see is an excellent way to maintain his memory as well as remind the people of Saint-Etienne of the long-standing French-American friendship.
Monica Ann Schager is the public engagement specialist at American Presence Post Lyon.