The first African American Secretary of State- Colin Powell


Lacie Coleman, Podcast, photography

     On January 20, 2001, Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He was the first African American Secretary of State. He served for four years.  

     Powell was born on April 5th of 1937 in Harlem, New York to two Jamaican immigrant parents. He grew up in the South Bronx, where he graduated from Morris High School. He attended the City College of New York at age 16, and he joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps. He became company commander of the Pershing Rifle and attained ROTC’s highest rank of cadet colonel. He graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science in Geology and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. 

     Powell was assigned to Vietnam from Dec. 1962 to Nov. 1963, where he served as an adviser to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion. After being wounded, he received a purple heart but still completed an Infantry Officer Advanced Course. He was promoted to major in 1966 and the next year he became an instructor at an Infantry School. In 1968 he graduated second in a class of 1,244 from the Command and General Staff College. In 1989 he was promoted to the rank of general and was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the four years, Powell served in that capacity, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in 1991. After his retirement in 1993, he founded America’s Promise, an organization that helps at-risk children. He was nominated for Secretary of State by President George W. Bush on December 16, 2000.

     Powell placed an emphasis on reaffirming diplomatic alliances around the world, supporting a national missile defense system, rooting for peace in the Middle East, and prioritizing sanctions over force in potential places such as Iraq. Powell’s term was soon dominated by the challenges the Bush Administration faced after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Powell was one of the most upfront supporters of taking quick military action against al-Qaeda. Powell has taken many actions in trying to protect the safety and happiness of American citizens. 

     In 2004, Powell announced his resignation. After stepping down as Secretary of State, he continued his work with America’s Promise Alliance. He served on the Boards of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Eisenhower Fellowship Program, and the Powell Center at the City College of New York.