Colin Powell, America’s first Black Secretary of State, has died after his battle with COVID-19 on Monday (Oct. 18). He was 84. Powell’s family released a statement on Powell’s official Facebook page.
“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” it reads. “He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather, and a great American.”
Powell’s career in politics and foreign policy lasted through several presidential administrations. He became the first Black national security adviser during the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, continued this role under Bill Clinton, and ultimately, and served as the U.S. Secretary of State under the George W. Bush administration.
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience,” read a statement issued by former President George W. Bush. “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. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Powell was born on April 5, 1937 to Jamaican immigrant parents in Harlem. Prior to his political career, he grew up in the South Bronx before he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) while enrolled at City College of New York. He entered the US Army after graduating in 1958 and served two tours in Vietnam during the 1960s as an advisor. During his first tour of duty, he was awarded a Purple Heart and, one year later, a Bronze Star. Through the duration of his military career, Powell has received 11 military decorations, including the Legion of Merit.
Powell remained a member of the armed forces upon returning to the United States and embarking on a political career. After he earned his MBA at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., Powell was granted a White House fellowship. After making an impression in the Office of Management and Budget under the Richard Nixon administration, Powell elevated into the prominent positions for which he is most known for today.
In 1993, Powell retired from the Army and in 2000, George W. Bush appointed Powell as Secretary of State which at the time, was the highest rank in civilian government ever held by a Black person. While serving in this role, Powell faced backlash for the 2003 invasion of Iraq after he appeared before the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 to present evidence that Iraq had concealed large amounts of weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, he testified before Congress that the intelligence sources he used were wrong and after acknowledging the fact that Iraq likely did not have the weapons and announced his resignation. He was succeeded by Condoleeza Rice.
After his retirement, he remained a political public figure offering criticism of the Bush administration. He also made headlines in 2008 when he endorsed Barack Obama’s presidential bid, although he had been a part of the Republican party.
“I think he is a transformational figure,” Powell said at the time on NBC’s Meet the Press. “He is a new generation coming … onto the world stage and on the American stage. And for that reason, I’ll be voting for Sen. Barack Obama.”
“I can’t deny that it will be a historic event when an African-American becomes president,” Powell continued, speaking live in the studio. “And should that happen, all Americans should be proud — not just African-American, but all Americans — that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It would also not only electrify the country, but electrify the world.”
According to the CDC, more than 7,000 COVID-19 breakthrough cases have resulted in death have been reported as of Oct. 12. Of the fatal infections, 85% were people age 65 and older.
Powell is survived by Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children.