Elizabeth Shackelford most recently served as a political officer based in Nairobi for the U.S. mission to Somalia. She wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017 that she reluctantly had decided to quit because the administration had abandoned human rights as a priority and shown disdain for the State Department’s diplomatic work, according to her letter. In the closing paragraph of her letter, Shackelford called on Tillerson “to stem the bleeding by showing leadership and a commitment to our people, our mission, and our mandate as the foreign policy arm of the United States.” She wrote, “If you are unable to do so effectively within this Administration, I would humbly recommend you follow me out the door.”
Shackelford was singled out as an especially promising diplomat and was selected for future senior leadership roles, which a veteran foreign service officer said was unusual at her age. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, the 38-year-old Shackelford graduated first in her class at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. She worked at a law firm, then the consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton on foreign aid projects before joining the foreign service in 2010. Shackelford distinguished herself in South Sudan for overseeing the evacuation of 1,000 Americans and other foreign nationals when violence erupted in Juba in December 2013.