Word for Word
Colin Powell, the first Black secretary of State, died Monday at age 84 due to complications from COVID-19.
Mr. Powell, a four-star Army general, rose to become the first Black – and youngest – chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, capping a four-decade career in the military.
He was also the nation’s first Black national security adviser, working in the Reagan administration in the late 1980s.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the Powell family wrote in a statement.
Mr. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to his family, but had multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that weakens the body’s ability to fight infection.
He had the rare distinction of being awarded two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the first from President Bush in 1991, and the second from President Clinton in 1993 at his military retirement ceremony.
President Biden ordered that flags be flown at half-staff in his honor.
President Biden called Mr. Powell “a dear friend and a patriot,” in a surprise appearance at a White House ceremony honoring the 2020 and 2021 State and National Teachers of the Year.
“This is the guy born the son of immigrants in New York City, raised in Harlem, in the South Bronx. Graduated from City College of New York. And he rose to the highest ranks not only in the military but also in areas of foreign policy and statecraft,” he said.
“This is a guy – and we talk about it – who had teachers who looked at this African American kid and said, ‘You can do anything.’ So, all I want to say to you is don’t underestimate what you do.”
The White House ceremony was hosted by first lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Watch the full South Lawn ceremony.
Vice President Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris reflected on the legacy of Mr. Powell in remarks to reporters aboard Air Force Two.
The nation’s first Black vice president noted Mr. Powell’s trailblazing role in becoming the first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of State.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about that – how young service members and others, not only within the military, but in our nation and around the globe, took notice of what his accomplishments meant as a reflection of who we are as a nation,” she said.
“He broke so many barriers, and those barriers were not easy to break by any stretch. But he did it with dignity. He did it with grace.”
Watch the vice president’s full Air Force Two comments. See her promote the “Build Back Better” agenda in Nevada.
Secretary of State Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken commemorated his predecessor Secretary Powell, the first Black person to lead the State Department, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.
“Secretary Powell was simply and completely a leader,” said Secretary Blinken.
“He treated people the way he expected them to treat each other. And he made sure that they knew he would always have their back. The result was that his people would walk through walls for him.”
Watch Secretary Blinken’s remarks.
Defense Secretary Austin
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reacted to the passing of Gen. Powell, the first Black national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” he said on a trip abroad to Tbilisi, Georgia. “I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.”
The four-star Army general served 35 years in the military, joining the ROTC program while at the City College of New York.
He served in the Vietnam War, and later led troops during the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
“It is not possible to replace a Colin Powell,” said Secretary Austin.
Watch Secretary Austin’s remarks.
President Biden: “Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity. From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong.”
President Obama: “General Powell helped a generation of young people set their sights higher. He never denied the role that race played in his own life and in our society more broadly. But he also refused to accept that race would limit his dreams, and through his steady and principled leadership, helped pave the way for so many who would follow.”
President Bush: “Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was National Security Adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my Administration. 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.”
President Clinton: “The son of immigrants, he rose to the top levels of military, civilian, and non-governmental service through intelligence, character, and the ability to see the big picture and attend to the smallest details. He lived the promise of America, and spent a lifetime working to help our country, especially our young people, live up to its own ideals and noblest aspirations at home and around the world.”
President Carter: “A true patriot and public servant, we were honored to work beside him to strengthen communities in the United States, help resolve conflict in Haiti, and observe elections in Jamaica. His courage and integrity will be an inspiration for generations to come.”