Four star general Colin L. Powell, who became the first Black leader of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black Secretary of State, died Monday from complications related to Covid-19 at the age of 84. While fully vaccinated, Powell also suffered from multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response. He also had Parkinson’s Disease. By definition, Powell was immunocompromised.
Colin Luther Powell was born on April 5, 1937, in New York, New York to Jamaican immigrants. He attended the City University of New York. He graduated from CUNY and was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program in 1958.
Tributes to Powell poured in from all over the political spectrum. Vice President Kamala Harris paid her respects:
But I just want to say that, also, you know, he as the first Black person, Black man to be Joint Chiefs — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; to be National Security Advisor; to be Secretary of State — every step of the way, when he filled those roles, he was, by everything that he did and the way he did it, inspiring so many people. And there’s been a lot of conversation about that — how young service members and others, not only in the military, but in our nation and around the globe, took notice of what his accomplishments meant as a reflection of who we are as a nation.
And I think that’s one of the most important things to take away, which is that he broke so many barriers, and those barriers were not easy to break by any stretch. But he did it with dignity. He did it with grace. And because of what he was able to accomplish, it really did elevate our nation in so many ways.
So, may he rest in peace.
Powell also had roots in Atlanta. In 1989, Powell was promoted to temporary general and commanded Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia. Later that year, Powell became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During his tenure as the Chairman, Powell led the United States armed forces in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait. These Operations involved the largest buildup of U.S. military forces since the Vietnam War. He served in that post until his retirement on September 30, 1993.
Clark Atlanta University President George T. French offered his condolences to Powell. French said Powell was, “a true patriot and an exemplary public servant who honored this country with his military prowess and authentic leadership.”
“Clark Atlanta University was privileged to confer an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree on General Powell during its 1989 Commencement Exercises. General Powell also served as the guest speaker during this inaugural commencement of the newly-consolidated Clark Atlanta University after the 1988 union of its historic founding institutions, Atlanta University, founded in 1865, and Clark College, founded in 1869.”
The Atlanta City Council also paid their respects to Powell:
“The Atlanta City Council joined the country and the world in commemorating and honoring the life of Gen. Colin Powell during a moment of silence during today’s meeting following the announcement of his death on Monday. He had an extraordinary career in the U.S. Armed Forces and deeply shaped our nation as our country’s top diplomat. He was a remarkable man and a true leader. We are saddened by his loss and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family.”
Powell’s impact was not lost on Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of General Colin Powell. General Powell was a consummate statesman whose life work transcends any political entity. He was a warrior until the end, most recently imploring all Americans to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Alma, their children and their families. The world has lost a hero.”
The tribute offered by Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman was poignant while highlighting the seemingly effortless manner in which he not only became the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the first Black Secretary of State, but also carried these responsibilities in a manner that did not weigh him down.
It hurts not only because he was a huge icon in the Black community, the Caribbean-American Community, but he was a superstar in the AMERICAN community. He transcended race to lead America in times of war and peace—and he did it with intelligence, certainty and grace before and after he wore four stars on his Army uniform.
I will remember General Powell, for also being a Fulton County resident when he led Forces Command at Fort McPherson, now Tyler Perry Studios. Powell was a leader here in our county and all over the world. Furthermore, he was a first of firsts that paved the way for so many other men and women of color. He was the first black national security advisor under President Reagan; he was the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George Bush 41 and President Bill Clinton; and he was the first black secretary of state in the Bush 43 administration.
Colin Luther Powell was survived by his wife Alma and three children.