In Memoriam: Colin L. Powell, 1937–2021

October 18, 2021

One of the greatest modern influencers of foreign policy, Colin L. Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, decided on a military career while attending the City College of New York. He served in Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and eventually retired as a four-star general. A White House Fellowship in 1972 paved the way for Powell’s career in politics.

In 1986, while working as an aide for President Reagan’s secretary of defense, Powell assisted with coordinating the invasion of Grenada and the bombing of Libya. Soon after, he worked as a national security advisor and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1991, helping to plan Operation Desert Storm.

In 2001, under President George W. Bush, Powell became the first Black secretary of state. While first skeptical of invading Iraq, in 2003, he spoke favorably about initiating the war to the Security Council chamber of the United Nations. Powell was favored by American presidents and was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications of Covid-19.

Full length portrait of an African American 4-star general in uniform
General Colin Powell / Colin Luther Powell, 1937–2021 / Ronald N. Sherr / Oil on canvas, 2012 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; supported by a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and by the Marc Pachter Commissioning Fund