The centerfold of the March issue of State, the monthly magazine of the department, was an eye-grabber for Foreign Service officers like Paul Washington.

The pages featured the latest organizational chart--complete with photos--of the top levels of the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy. For the first time in years, there was not a single black in a policy-making position on the chart. In fact, only one black was among the 39 officials pictured: David Cooper, director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

"That tells it all, that one picture," said Washington. "These are the so-called movers and shakers and there's no blacks on there."

Washington's pique is shared by other black and Hispanic Foreign Service officers who complain that under the Reagan administration there has been a significant retreat from the gains in minority hiring and promotion made under previous administrations.

Sixteen years ago, under Secretary Dean Rusk, the State Department began an affirmative action program, exempting blacks and other minorities from the Foreign Service written examination. Eight years later, under Henry A. Kissinger, it launched a mid-level recruitment program to bring minorities and women into management positions.

But today, the diplomatic corps has yet to fully shake its image as the most exclusive branch of government service. "A collection of striped-pants fuddy-duddies," is the way Kissinger described that image in the second volume of his memoirs. It was, he wrote, a group that by tradition was "drawn largely from the upper-class, predominantly Protestant, private-school background of the Eastern Establishment."

The latest State Department figures show that about 9.9 percent of the 5,418 Foreign Service officers belong to minority groups, including blacks, Hispanics, Indians and Asian Americans. Department officials say this shows a steady improvement since 1970, when the percentage was 2 percent.

"Efforts are very definitely being made," said Patricia A. Morton, deputy director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights. "Secretary George P. Shultz is very supportive of affirmative action . . . . But the secretary is interested in having a Foreign Service where no position is reserved for any particular group."

Some blacks and some members of Congress have expressed concern about the drop in the number of minorities in more visible, senior-level positions, a retrenchment that has not gone unnoticed in the Third World. During the Carter administration, there were 17 black ambassadors, including United Nations ambassadors Andrew Young and Donald F. McHenry, one assistant secretary and five deputy assistant secretaries.

Today, there are six black ambassadors, most of whom are in small, less developed countries such as Togo and Guinea. Last week, the department announced that Leonard H. Robinson Jr., a former congressional staffer, would serve as deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, bringing to three the number of blacks who serve at that level. (Two other blacks serve as deputy inspector general and deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services.)

"There's a feeling that, under Cyrus Vance, there was an interest in making the State Department more reflective of the American population," said Earle Scarlett, a Jamaican-born career officer who now staffs the Somalia desk. "But there's no evidence of forward momentum."

It is a perception that, in the eyes of the critics, has already been detected in Africa and other parts of the globe. "The State Department is not projecting the interracial image of our country," said Rep. George W. Crockett Jr. (D-Mich.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I would suggest that the large number of blacks in the United Nations would be far more responsive to American interests if they could look around them and see a larger number of blacks in our delegation or their embassies back home."

It has also spawned growing discontent among members of the Thursday Luncheon Group, an informal organization of black department employes. The group was started in the early 1970s by a handful of black senior officers who met for lunch each Thursday. Since then, its ranks have swelled with hundreds of secretaries and clerks, and it now meets once a month.

Washington, the group's vice president, epitomizes the frustration of its members. He went to State as a messenger during the waning days of Dean Acheson's tenure in 1952. He now is director of the Publishing Services Division, overseeing the production of hundreds of department documents and publications.

Last November, he and other Thursday Group officers met with Shultz to discuss their concerns. "I got the distinct impression that he was sincerely interested," he said. "But we're still waiting to see what happens next."