Leaders across the country are remembering General Colin Powell, the decorated four-star Black military icon who made history serving his country and four U.S. presidents.
Powell, who became the nation’s first African American to hold a trio of positions as Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died early Monday, October 18, after complications from COVID-19. He was 84. Powell, who was fully vaccinated, was struggling with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. He was scheduled to receive a booster shot next week.
Services for Powell had not been announced at Crusader press time Wednesday, October 20, for its print edition.
For most of his life, Powell was a Republican who had a rare appeal to Democrats both Black and white, as well as members of his own political party.
He was highly trusted, with his oftentimes blunt honesty and integrity. To Blacks across the country he was a dignified man who gained respect and admiration as a success story, the product of New York City’s tough Bronx borough.
Powell’s reputation was stained by his flawed testimony that led to the disastrous Iraq War under President George W. Bush.
It was an event that Powell would deeply regret later in his career.
This week, Powell is being remembered as a courageous official who overcame humble beginnings to become one of the most prominent and respected military leaders in recent U.S. history.
President Joe Biden said in a statement, “Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity. As a Senator, I worked closely with him when he served as National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, and as Secretary of State. Over our many years working together – even in disagreement – Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect.”
Former President Barack Obama said, “General Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot. Everyone who worked with General Powell appreciated his clarity of thought, insistence on seeing all sides, and ability to execute. And although he’d be the first to acknowledge that he didn’t get every call right, his actions reflected what he believed was best for America and the people he served.”
Obama added that he was “deeply appreciative that someone like General Powell, who had been associated with Republican administrations in the past, was willing to endorse me in 2008. But what impressed me, even more, was how he did it. At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could.”
Former President George W. Bush said Powell was “a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom—twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend.”
Stacey Abrams, a Democrat from Georgia and a voting rights activist, said on Twitter that Mr. Powell “led with integrity, admitted fallibility and defended democracy.”
In an interview on C-Span, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin credited Powell as an extraordinary mentor who always had “great counsel.”
“I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He always made time for me, and I could always go to him for tough issues,” Austin said. “I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.”
Derrick Johnson, President, and CEO of the NAACP said Powell “was a good man who inspired many. He will be remembered as an outstanding public servant and a proponent of civil rights. He will be remembered for serving with wisdom and strength. We honor his life and mourn his passing.
“A longtime member and supporter of the NAACP, General Colin Powell’s resilience as a prominent leader and trailblazer will be sorely missed.”
The Congressional Black Caucus Institute on Twitter, said, “Today, CBCI joins the nation in mourning the passing of General Colin L. Powell, the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Secretary of State. His life of principled service is his legacy and our challenge to emulate.”
National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said, “General Powell was a trailblazer, statesman, and a great friend and supporter of the National Urban League. His tireless service to the nation and its highest ideals serves as an inspiration to all Americans. His passing is a tremendous loss.
“General Powell will be remembered as a man of principle, courage, and strength, who never wavered in his determination to hold America to the highest standards,” Morial said. “He is a role model whose life story will inspire generations of public servants who put the interests of the nation first regardless of party affiliation.”
Governor JB Pritzker on Twitter said, “Colin Powell dedicated his life to public service. As former U.S. Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a distinguished trailblazer, he’s left an enduring mark on our nation.”
In 1991, Powell received the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. Among other awards, he also was honored with the President’s Citizens Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of service.
The National Urban League honored Powell with its Humanitarian Award at the Equal Opportunity Dinner in 2009 for his leadership as a soldier, statesman, diplomat, and supporter of the Black organization.
Born in Harlem to Jamaican parents, Powell grew up in the South Bronx and was a “C” student in high school. He graduated from City College of New York and joined the Army through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. As a lieutenant, Powell served two decorated combat tours in Vietnam. Under President Ronald Reagan, Powell became America’s first Black National Security Advisor at the end of the Cold War. He helped negotiate arms treaties with then-Soviet president, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Powell earned an MBA at George Washington University in 1971. He won a prestigious White House fellowship that led him to the Office of Management and Budget in the fall of 1972. The assignment introduced him to Caspar Weinberger and Frank Carlucci, two future defense secretaries who became important career patrons.
As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was the architect of the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991, which ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait but left him in power in Iraq. With then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, the Powell Doctrine was established as it set clear political objectives and public support with decisive and overwhelming force to defeat enemy forces.
When he retired from the military in 1993, Powell was one of the most popular public figures in America. He wrote a best-selling memoir, “My American Journey,” and considered running for the White House in 1995 but decided against doing so after speaking about it with his wife. Surveys revealed that Powell would have gained the support of Black Democratic voters.
Powell returned to public service in 2001 as Secretary of State to President George W. Bush. Powell would often be at odds with Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his former colleague Cheney, now serving as Vice President, for the ear of President Bush and foreign policy dominance.
During those years, Powell called Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan a “father figure” and George W. Bush an “older brother.”
Before the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003, Powell argued in favor of military action against Iraq, saying its leader, Sadam Hussein was harboring “weapons of mass destruction. Powell cited intelligence reports and numerous anonymous Iraqi defectors, but those sources turned out to be false. Thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians died in the Iraq War, which cost American taxpayers an estimated $2.4 trillion. The failed war further tarnished the legacy of President George W. Bush and the Republican Party, which had been blamed for the housing crisis that sparked the 2008 economic recession.
Powell publicly apologized for giving the false testimony, but the long-term damage had been done to Iraq and America. While some believe Powell should have done more to object to the war, others believed that he was the victim of a Bush administration that was hellbent on abusing its political power and exploiting the War on Terrorism after September 11.
In 2008, Powell gave a forceful endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Fellow Republicans and conservatives criticized Powell, but the endorsement ushered in a new chapter that saw a growing chasm between Powell and the Republican Party.
During Republican President Donald Trump’s term in office, Powell criticized the use of force against racial justice activists in 2020.
He blasted Trump’s ethics and accused other Republicans of being cowards and adhering to the president’s divisive leadership out of political self-interest. Republicans called Powell a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and Trump brought up Powell’s role in the Iraq War after he endorsed Biden for president over Trump.
In an interview with CNN in 2020, Powell said, “The one word I have to use with respect to what he’s been doing for the last several years is the word I would never have used before, never would have used with any of the four presidents I worked for: he lies,” Powell said of Trump. “He lies about things, and he gets away with it because people will not hold him accountable.”