Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell passes at 84

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Vanity Fair Magazine

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mickale Thompson, Special Assignments Reporter

The death of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell caused an outpouring of emotion among Americans. Powell was 84 years old before passing away on Oct. 18 due to COVID-19 complications.

Powell, a Vietnam War veteran, was the first Black secretary of state and served in several Republican and Democratic political administrations. He spent 35 years in the Army and also served as a four-star general, then became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff from 1989 to 1993. 

Powell had a significant impact on political decisions made by the U.S. government. He played a crucial role in the U.S. invasion of Kuwait in 1991.  His influence made many believe that he would run for president of the United States, but instead, decided to join the George W. Bush administration in 2001 and played a major role in shaping the United States’ response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Associate Professor of History Clemmie Harris said it is important to recognize how Powell broke racial barriers in addition to achieving astronomical political accomplishments. 

“Because he was the first Black secretary of state and broke a major barrier because there has never been a Black person to reach such a high cabinet position, it was very important because it was an achievement that continues the story of racial integration,” Harris said. “Often those areas are filled by people from privileged backgrounds. People from minority groups are not represented.”

According to Harris, Powell’s legacy is important for a variety of reasons, but first within the context of the African diaspora.

“It represents a story of every generation of Black men standing on the shoulders of those who came before them to build on that chapter,” Harris said. “Colin Powell stood not only on the shoulders of those African Americans who are still on the enchants of progress, so there is no doubt that he presents a continuation of Black excellence and service Black people have given to this country. He is also very important because he resonates with the first 4-star Black general and became a very important form of inspiration.”

Associate Professor of Political Science Jun Kwon said Powell will be remembered by Americans as an impeccable public servant and patriot.

“His life is more than the biography of one man,” Kwon said. “Growing up with poor immigrant parents, the life of Mr. Powell became a role model for the African American success story in the military and in government. However, if there is one thing that African Americans would have liked is, I think, that Mr. Powell could have been more visible and outspoken on their behalf in recent years.” 

As a Black man, Harris is proud of Powell’s accomplishments and exemplary life of service.

His legacy is important not only because of what it means to be a Black American, but highlights the struggle Black people endure,” Harris said. “It is also important to me because Powell was able to realize the country’s potential.” 

Powell’s funeral was held on Nov. 5 at the Washington National Cathedral.