The National Civil Rights Museum expresses deep sorrow in the passing of 1997 Freedom Award honoree, Secretary Colin L. Powell.
Secretary Powell was appointed by President George W. Bush as the 65th Secretary of State in 2000, becoming the first African American Secretary of State in the U.S. Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held a myriad of command and staff positions and rose to the rank of four-star general. His last assignment, from October 1, 1989 to September 30, 1993, was as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Powell was born in New York City to Jamaican immigrant parents on April 5, 1937, was raised in the South Bronx, and educated in its public schools. He had witnessed firsthand the disparities of racial injustices in military and civilian life. Prior to his appointment, Secretary Powell was the chairman of America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing people from every sector of American life to build the character and competence of young people.
Following his retirement, Secretary Powell wrote his best-selling autobiography, My American Journey, published in 1995. Despite calls to run for president, he pursued a career as a public speaker, addressing audiences across the country and abroad. A long-time Republican, he spoke his conscience even when his beliefs conflicted with partisan policies.
Throughout Powell’s life, he emphasized the importance of education, leadership, and mentorship to younger generations. He demonstrated a commitment to country, dignity, and honor, and nonpartisan duty to uphold the ideals of our nation. Holding fast to his values, he spoke his truth in times of controversy to fulfill a greater purpose for a better humanity.
Our sincere condolences to his family, friends, and our nation for whom he served so earnestly.Thank you, Secretary Powell, for your exemplary leadership, love, and legacy to which we all can aspire. Rest in eternal peace.