In this Nov. 30, 2006 file photo, former Secretary of State Colin Powell looks on during a ceremony for the Alexis de Tocqueville prize, a French literary award, in Tocqueville, east of Cherbourg, western France. Powell, former Joint Chiefs chairman and secretary of state, has died from COVID-19 complications. In an announcement on social media Monday, the family said Powell had been fully vaccinated. He was 84. (AP Photo/Vincent Michel)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
mgreen@afro.com

General Colin Powell, 84, the first Black United States Secretary of State, has died from complications from COVID-19. He was fully vaccinated, according to an announcement Powell’s family posted to Facebook.

“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the Powell family wrote.

Born on April 5, 1937 to Jamaican immigrants and growing up in Harlem and the South Bronx, Powell spent much of his life in service to America and her people.  

“We have got to say to the world, it doesn’t make any difference who you are or what you are, if you’re an American, you’re an American,” Powell said in an interview in 2008, when discussing an end to divisive and discriminatory actions in politics.

After graduating from City College of New York, where he was a member of ROTC, Powell entered the Army and served twice in Vietnam.  He then attended George Washington University and began as a White House fellow in 1972- a position that would begin a lifetime of political positions and involvement.

There was a point in time when Gen. Colin Powell was the highest ranking African American in the United States, serving as a key figure with the National Security Council, several roles for U.S. presidents before making history when he was nominated by President George H.W. Bush as the youngest Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, and again in 2001 when President George W. Bush appointed him as the first Black Secretary of State.  

“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell,” Bush wrote in a statement.  “He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier in Vietnam. Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience.  He was National Security Adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my Administration.  He was such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice.  He was highly respected at home and abroad.”

Powell was also the founding chair of America’s Promise Alliance, the United States’ largest cross-sector alliance of government initiatives, community organizations, businesses, nonprofits.  He stepped down from the position in 2001, when he became Secretary of State and remained active with the organization over the years as his wife, Alma Powell, has chaired the organization since 2004. 

Powell became a Republican in 1993 and, from his years of leadership, was tapped to consider the presidency.  Although he never ran for president, the former Republican Secretary of State shocked the world when he endorsed the then, Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, when he was running in 2008.

“I think he is a transformational figure, he is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage,” Powell said about Obama, before he won the 2008 presidential election.  In October 2012, the retired General also publicly endorsed President Obama and he went on to win the election not even two weeks later.

“General Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot.  He was at the center of some of the most consequential events of our lifetimes- serving two decorated tours in Vietnam; guiding U.S. strategy in the Gulf War, serving as National Security Advisor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Secretary of State; offering counsel to four presidents; and helping shape American foreign policy for decades,” Obama wrote in a statement posted to social media after Powell’s passing. 

“On a personal level, I 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 he only could,” Obama said before recalling the moment.

“‘The correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian.’ General Powell said.  ‘But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?  The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?,’” Obama recounted.

Despite his fully vaccinated status, Powell died after suffering complications from COVID-19, however, the retired general was also reportedly battling comorbidities including multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. 

In October 2019, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) honored Powell for his contributions to advancing curative treatments to the cancer affecting the blood cells.

We are inspired by General Powell’s exemplary leadership and service to our country and moved by his support. We thank him for believing in our work, and for bringing attention to the importance of delivering more precise treatments and striving toward a cure for all multiple myeloma patients,” said MMRF Founder and Chief Mission Officer Kathy Giusti, who not only awarded Powell, but also participated in a fireside chat with the groundbreaking American.

“I am honored to be recognized by the MMRF and am inspired by their extraordinary progress in driving research forward and developing new treatments for such an uncommon and incurable disease,” Powell said in 2019.  “Their innovative research model can not only be used to treat multiple myeloma, but can be applied to other diseases, which will help to accelerate similar progress and save more lives.”

Powell is being remembered as a great, truthful and transparent leader.

“Colin Powell was always someone who told me the truth.  I could depend on his honesty and integrity, and it didn’t mean I agreed with his politics, but he always told the truth.  And I think that’s a marvelous legacy for anybody to have,” {AFRO} Managing Editor the Rev. Dorothy Boulware said when considering covering Powell over the years.

While, in recent years, Powell was criticized for untruthfully reporting intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in 2003, when he was Secretary of State, he has since apologized for the wrong and explained he was genuinely relaying information told to him by his superior, the President.  Powell resigned as Secretary of State in 2004. In a 2020 New York Times article, he talks about how challenging it was in the early 2000’s, pushing back against President Bush’s desire to invade Iraq, but also how he never backed down from telling his bosses the truth, rather than what they wanted to hear.

“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 best for America and the people he served,” Obama wrote in his statement.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor