November 7, 2021
Our Nation’s Servant Leader
General Colin Powell, 2021
Friday, November 5, 2021 marked the homegoing ceremony for the late great statesman HistoryMaker General Colin Powell at the National Cathedral with bi-partisan Washington D.C. in attendance. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage spoke of Powell’s sense of humor and being comfortable in his own skin. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke of losing her dear gentle and decent friend. His son, Michael Powell, spoke of his father’s zest for life, his love of adding machines and his endless love for people including the local hot dog vendor, janitor, the bank teller, retired vet, young recruits as well as any world leader. A soldier’s soldier, a man of not only of substance, but of great stature, Powell’s life epitomized the American dream. He was indeed a master leader and could have, had he wanted it, been elected the nation’s first African American president. He instead supported the election of the nation’s first African American president, HistoryMaker President Barack Obama
Diahann Carroll, General Colin Powell, Julieanna Richardson and Toni Cook Bush
In 2004, the night before the taping of An Evening With Diahann Carroll, The HistoryMakers Founder & President Julieanna Richardson was seated next to General Powell at the home of Ann and Vernon Jordan hosted by The HistoryMakers Board Chair Toni Cook Bush.
Left: A note from General Colin Powell to Julieanna Richardson: "Great being with you. Here is the information I promised. All the best."
Right: General Colin Powell and Julieanna Richardson
According to Richardson, “I asked if he would sit for an interview for The HistoryMakers archives. He demurred and so politely declined saying that his materials had been promised to the Army War College. It was then that I told General Powell my Colonel Thompson story. In the first year of the project, we had gone to interview Tuskegee Airman Colonel Bill Thompson who had prepared for us for four days. He sits me down and asks if I had heard of the Golden Thirteen. I said I had not. He said that they were the Navy’s version of the Tuskegee Airmen and that there were only four left living in the country and one lived upstairs. At that point, I knew we were at a point of great discovery.”
Left: A note written by General Colin Powell, "The Montford Point Marines"
Right: Marines training at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 1942
General Powell loved that story and then told me about the Montford Marines-the Marine’s version of the Tuskegee Airmen. He wanted to ensure that everyone knew that it was not just the Tuskegee Airmen who led the way for blacks in the military. It was actually all three -the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navy’s Golden Thirteen, and the Montford Point Marines- that helped to integrate the U.S. Armed Forces. General Powell wanted black military history preserved, known, and promoted correctly. It was he who had, as Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, ensured that a monument in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers was erected at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His mentor had been General George Price, Leontyne Price’s youngest brother. He also referred others to The HistoryMakers for us to interview. But it was on April 26, 2006 that The HistoryMakers honored General Powell with the taping of An Evening With Colin Powell with Juan Williams serving as his interviewer. It was also in 2006 that The HistoryMakers interviewed General Powell’s wife, Alma Powell, who spoke of her marriage to Powell and his loving, warm Jamaican family, and how her responsibilities grew as her husband’s career progressed. Also interviewed was his son, Michael Powell, who spoke of the smell of fresh paint as they moved from one base to another. There was always also the able assistance of his trusted assistant, Peggy Cifrino
Left: Colin Powell with his father, Luther Powell, 1943
Right: Colin Powell, c.1950s
Born on April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York to Jamaican immigrants Maud McKoy and Luther Powell, General Powell described his upbringing: “It was a nice, family upbringing… And the big thing that I remember, most vividly… is the way in which all of these adults, aunts, uncles, cousins, and teachers and priests and everyone else, kept the kids in play. We were not allowed to fail… It didn't mean you had to be a general or doctor or lawyer. In fact, it was the furthest thing from my mind when I was a kid in New York City. But you had to stay in school, and you had to do well, and you had to meet our expectations. We didn't come to this country for the next generation to blow it.”[1]
Left: Alma and then-Second Lieutenant Colin Powell on their wedding day, August 25, 1962
Right: Alma and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, Fort Myer, Arlington, Virginia, 1993
While attending City College of New York, Powell joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC): “I liked the uniforms, I liked the sense of purpose, the sense of mission… and I liked the comradery. And I found I was pretty good at it. I give this story to youngsters all the time. Find out that which you're good at and which you love doing and that's what you ought to be doing. That's what I found in the [U.S.] Army.”[2] Graduating in 1958 with his B.S. in geology, he received a commission as an Army second lieutenant. It was during this time he met his wife of fifty-nine years, Alma, who recalled in her 2006 interview: “My roommate was busy telling me about this guy she met the weekend before… She said, ‘And he's coming back this weekend, and he's bringing his friend with him…’ I said, ‘I don't go out on blind dates. And how do I know what's walking through that door? I don't go out with soldiers. I am not gonna be here…’ And she said, ‘If you stand me up I will never speak to you again.’ I said, ‘Okay, but whoever it is, is gonna be really sorry.’ (Laughter) And so, I proceeded to dress up like a femme fatale… I was not gonna be attractive to whoever this was that was coming. And (laughter) he walked in the door. He looked like he was about twelve years old… [But] it was evident the kind of person he was… And in conversation that night I said to him, ‘How long are you in the [U.S.] Army for?’ because I never knew anybody that made a career… Everybody I knew had their time counted down to the minute. And he said, ‘I'm making it a career,’ and I thought, (laughter) ‘what kind of nut is this?’”[3]
Colin Powell as a White House Fellow in the Office of Management and Budget for the Nixon Administration, Washington D.C., 1972
After serving in Vietnam, Powell earned his M.B.A. from George Washington University in 1971, and from 1972 to 1973 subsequently served as a White House Fellow in the Office of Management and Budget during the Richard Nixon Administration. Corporate lawyer Karen Hastie Williams, who worked for the Jimmy Carter Administration, said: “I remember having… a meeting with Colin Powell… who was then the… special assistant to the secretary of defense. And… I had not known him before, but I walked in, and he said, ‘Before we have a conversation I have to tell you that your father [William H. Hastie] changed my life… he was the chairman of the Commission on White House Fellows [President's Commission on White House Fellowships] and he picked me out of a group of thirty candidates to be one of the people who was a White House Fellow. And I chose to come over and work with the secretary of defense.’"[4]
Left: General Colin Powell, National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.
Right: Colin Powell in his Reserve Officers’ Training Corps uniform while a student at City College of New York, 1954
Powell was subsequently chosen to attend the National War College and General Julius Becton, Jr., the first African American officer to command a U.S. Army corps, spoke of General Powell at the time as a standout candidate: “I was sitting [as president] on a board, looking at records for people to go to the senior service colleges…. And they would put them in order of merit, based on what we thought… On my piece of paper, a fellow named Powell came out Number One… never heard of him before… And, interestingly enough, he came out Number One on everyone else's piece of paper too.’”[5] Later, foreign ambassador James Gadsden commented on General Powell’s return to National War College for a visit: “When General Powell was there, he made a comment that was very instructive to the students. He said… ‘When I was a student here sitting in that top row up there, fast asleep most of the time, if anybody had ever told me at that time that I was going to be… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor to the president, and the Secretary of State, I would have laughed in their face… Because you were chosen to be here… is a comment on the expectations in your career. You have no idea what you're going to be doing in ten or twenty years, so prepare yourselves now to lead.’[6]
General Colin Powell (kneeling, center) visiting with soldiers of his brigade in field training, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, undated
Graduating from National War College in 1976, Powell subsequently commanded the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. Lieutenant Colonel Joe N. Ballard, the first African American Chief of Engineers and Commander for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, recalled serving in this division: “I went to the 101st Airborne [Division], a very prestigious division… where I met the most amazing person that, up until that time, that I'd never met. The first time I saw this man, I knew that there was something special about him… He was this colonel hot shot that had just come out of Washington, D.C. and they made him a brigade commander… and everyone is talking about him, and it was Colonel Colin Powell (laughter). And even then, it was something special… the way he talked, and the way he carried himself.”[7]
ROTC Cadet Michael Powell and his father, then-Major General Colin Powell, c. 1980s
Michael Powell described the day in 1979 his father was promoted to a one star general, or Brigadier General: “God, I remember that day… My father's mother… was visiting us… he came home from work, and she was sitting on the couch… and he said ‘everybody come to the kitchen.’ And we're like, ‘why… what do you want?’ (Laughter) And my grandmother didn't get off the [couch]… And he just said… ‘Well… the president [President James "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.] said I could be a general.’ …my grandmother just went berserk. And it was so great cause he… always had told us this story that they came to New York [New York] cause they thought there'd be more opportunity. And somehow that the star was the culmination of why she had done it all, and she was just in tears… this was crossing over to the big time, and to see her dream come true and his own work pay off was just really cool. My dad used to teach me… take care of the little things and the future takes care of itself… the next thing finds its way to you.”[8]
Then-U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell during a briefing at the Pentagon, January 1991
Lieutenant General Larry Jordan remembered General Powell’s sharp mind: “I was a newly selected brigadier [in 1990]. I hadn't even put the star on yet… And so, I met Colin Powell. I'm just one of forty colonels who were going to be brigadiers… May or June of '91 [1991], we're about to close up part of Germany. Colin Powell comes over… where there were a couple hundred of us... And he's walking through the crowd and you can hear the buzz… He walked up and said, ‘How are you doing, Larry?’ …Now, I didn't stand out in his mind. He just remembered my name was Larry Jordan. That's the man's mind. (laughter) I mean, he's unreal… I count him as a real hero of mine.”[9]
Ruth A. Davis (left) being sworn in as Director General of the Foreign Service by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (right) in the presence of her pastor, Reverend Andrew J. Hairston (center), Washington D.C., July 13, 2001
The first African American female career Ambassador Ruth A. Davis shared how important Powell was to the diversification of the U.S. State Department: “Secretary of State Colin Powell has been extraordinarily important in this effort. He asked me to be Director General of the Foreign Service because… he was interested in a number of issues, but diversity was one of the main issues. And… I took that at heart. When I arrived in the Foreign Service… 12.5 percent… were minorities. When I left, 18.5 were minorities. And how did we do that? We did it because Colin Powell made sure that we got the resources that we needed to do some very aggressive recruitment and… advertising among minorities publications.”[10] According to General Powell: “Successful leaders know how to define their mission, convey it to their subordinates and ensure they have the right tools and training needed to get the job done.
General Colin Powell and his wife Alma (center) unveiling the General Colin L. Powell Wing at National War College, Washington D.C., 2016
General Powell will remain heroic in the minds of many. "My father made a monumental difference. He lived, he lived well. I've heard it asked, 'Are we still making his kind?' I believe the answer to that question is up to us. To honor his legacy, I hope we do more than consign him to the history books. I hope we recommit ourselves to being a nation where we are still making his kind," Michael Powell said in ending his eulogy of his father. It was General Powell in 2006 who had said: “I've been privileged to have many great jobs and assignments and work for lots of wonderful people. But if it all had ended as just a lieutenant colonel, serving twenty years and then going into retirement with my pension, that would have been good too. But I'm just privileged to have had the opportunity to serve, and if people remember me as someone who served well and faithfully, that's enough.”[11]

Thank you General Powell--Servant Leader. May your well-earned legacy live on!
General Colin Powell’s 13 Rules:

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think! It will look better in the morning. 
  2. Get mad then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done.
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it. 
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. 
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. 
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding. 
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
[1] Gen. Colin L. Powell (The HistoryMakers A2006.186), interviewed by Juan Williams, April 29, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 9, Gen. Colin L. Powell talks about his childhood in the South Bronx, New York, New York.
[2] Gen. Colin L. Powell (The HistoryMakers A2006.186), interviewed by Juan Williams, April 29, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 10, Gen. Colin L. Powell talks about joining the Pershing Rifles at City College of New York.
[3] Alma Powell (The HistoryMakers A2006.009), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, February 2, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 6, Alma Powell recalls meeting General Colin L. Powell for the first time.
[4] Karen Hastie Williams (The HistoryMakers A2007.167), interviewed by Denise Gines, April 27, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 5, Karen Hastie Williams recalls her role at the Office of Management and Budget.
[5] Gen. Julius Becton, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2012.227), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 27, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 5, Julius Becton describes how General Colin Powell was selected to attend the National War College in 1975.
[6] The Honorable James Gadsden (The HistoryMakers A2013.070), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 11, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 8, story 2, James Gadsden recalls the people he met while teaching at the National War College in Washington, D.C., including HistoryMaker Colin Powell.
[7] Lt. Gen. Joe N. Ballard (The HistoryMakers A2005.157), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 30, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 4, Lt. Col. Joe N. Ballard recalls his mentor HistoryMaker General Colin L. Powell.
[8] The Honorable Michael Powell (The HistoryMakers A2006.010), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, February 2, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 1, The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his appointment as Federal Communications Commission chairman.
[9] Lt. Gen. Larry Jordan (The HistoryMakers A2013.040), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 12, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 7, story 6, Larry Jordan talks about Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf.
[10] The Honorable Ruth A. Davis (The HistoryMakers A2004.011), interviewed by Racine Tucker Hamilton, March 2, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 5, Ruth Davis discusses the lack of minorities in the Foreign Service.
[11] Gen. Colin L. Powell (The HistoryMakers A2006.186), interviewed by Juan Williams, April 29, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 24, Gen. Colin L. Powell reflects upon his legacy.