Colin Powell Biography

Colin Powell, the first African-American to hold significant positions in the U.S government, made a remarkable impact throughout his career. Rising through the ranks of the U.S Army, he became the youngest Joint Chief of Staff and played a crucial role in the Operation Desert Storm. Later, as the 65th Secretary of State, Powell faced challenges in supporting the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq. Despite his Republican affiliation, he was known for his liberal views and even endorsed President Obama’s candidacy. Sadly, Powell passed away on October 18, 2021, due to complications from Covid-19.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Colin Luther Powell
  • Died At Age: 84
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Alma Powell
    • Father: Luther Theophilus Powell
    • Mother: Maud Arial
    • Siblings: Marilyn Powell
    • Children: Annmarie, Linda, Michael Powell
  • Born Country: United States
  • Died on: October 18, 2021
  • Place of Death: Bethesda, Maryland, United States
  • Cause of Death: Deaths From The COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Ancestry: Jamaican American
  • Notable Alumni: City College Of New York
  • City: Harlem, New York
  • Personality: INTJ
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers
  • Education: George Washington University, City College Of New York
  • Awards:
    • 1988 – Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award
    • 1991 – Presidential Medal of Freedom
    • 1991 – Spingarn Medal
    • 1993 – Ronald Reagan Freedom Award
    • 2002 – Liberty Medal
    • 2005 – Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award
    • 2005 – Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service

Childhood & Early Life

Colin Powell was born to Maud Arial and Luther Theophilus Powell, Jamaican immigrant parents. Brought up in the South Bronx, Powell graduated in 1954, from Morris High School. He completed his BS degree in Geology from the City College of New York in 1958, and obtained an MBA degree from the George Washington University, thirteen years later.


While Colin Powell studied Geology, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and received training. He became commander of his unit and enjoyed the experience, which helped him choose a military career. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. In 1962, he was sent as an adviser to Vietnam, but was wounded by a punji-stake booby trap, while patrolling the Vietnamese-Laotian border. From 1968 to 1969, now a young major, he visited Vietnam to investigate the My Lai massacre incident when American forces allegedly killed 300 civilians. His report gave the American forces a clean chit. He was awarded a White House fellowship in the Nixon administration from 1972 to 1973. He worked as the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget under Caspar Weinberger. In the 1980s, he was posted at Fort Carson, Colorado. He was the senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, during the invasion of Grenada and the airstrike on Libya. In 1986, he commanded the V Corps in Frankfurt, Germany. Two years later, he became President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor. He continued to serve the Army and was a Lieutenant General now. In April 1989, after his tenure with the National Security Council, he was made a four star general and appointed the Commander in Chief, Forces Command (FORSCOM), at Fort McPherson, Georgia. In 1989, he became the youngest and the first African-American officer to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired from the army four years later. In 1994, he joined former President Carter to mediate with Haiti’s military leaders to allow the peaceful return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and successfully averted a U.S. invasion of Haiti. He founded America’s Promise Alliance, in 1997, to help children learn and succeed. It unites people from all walks of life to help young people realize their aspirations. From 2001 to 2005, he served as the 65th Secretary of State of the United States, the first African-American to hold that position. He had to garner support for America’s war on terrorism. Colin Powell initially did not support President Bush’s plans to forcibly overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but eventually toed the line, after being convinced that diplomacy had failed. However he wanted the international community to be involved in the action. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, he embarked on rebuilding Iraq. He admitted that he had presented wrong information before the UN Security Council. He resigned as the Secretary of State in 2004. In 2006, he joined Secretaries of Defense and State at a White House meeting to discuss United States foreign policy. He was also a speaker at the Get Motivated series that year. Colin Powell was a member of the board of directors of Revolution Health, owned by business leader Steve Case. A health-related website, which provides online tools to help people better manage their health. His first book, ‘My American Journey,’ was penned with Joseph E. Persico, and in 2012, he published ‘It Worked for Me, Lesson in Life and Leadership’

Major Works

Powell became prominent during the Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in 1991. In keeping with his ‘Powell Doctrine’, he advocated maximum force to get maximum success and minimum fatalities. To mobilize international support for the invasion of Iraq, Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council in 2003, and forcefully argued that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons and the means to manufacture more.


In 1988, Powell was presented the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award, and two years later, the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official. In 1991, Colin Powell was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush and the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. He was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. In 1993, he was presented his second Presidential Medal of Freedom and the second Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. He was appointed honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by the British Queen. He was also awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy, the Liberty Medal, and the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service by the Smithsonian Institution. A distinguished soldier, Colin Powell was decorated with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Service Medal (Army), the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and many other awards.

Personal Life & Legacy

Colin Powell married Alma Johnson in 1962. The couple has a son, Michael and two daughters, Linda and Annemarie. His favorite pastime was restoring old Volvo and Saab cars.


Colin Powell died on October 18, 2021, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center due to complications from COVID-19. He was 84.


Ever an optimist, this former U.S Secretary of State declared, “It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.” Molefi Kete Asante, a leading African-American scholar and the editor of the ‘Journal of Black Studies’ included this former secretary of state on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

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