Black in the Day…A Four Star General
September 21, 1989:
On this day Colin Powell made history by becoming the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-the highest military position in the Department of Defense, Oct. 1, 1989, to Sept. 30, 1993. At age 52, he became the youngest officer to serve in this position. Powell made history by becoming the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-the highest military position in the Department of Defense, Oct. 1, 1989, to Sept. 30, 1993. At age 52, he became the youngest officer to serve in this position. Powell made history again when he became the first appointed black secretary of state, Jan. 20, 2001.
Powell was born in New York City in 1937 and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther and Maud Powell, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Powell was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology. He also participated in ROTC at CCNY and received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. His further academic achievements include a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University.
Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held many command and staff positions and rose to the rank of 4-star General. His last assignment, from October 1, 1989, to September 30, 1993, was as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He also formulated the Powell Doctrine.
Following his military retirement, Powell wrote his best-selling autobiography, My American Journey. In addition, he pursued a career as a public speaker, addressing audiences across the country and abroad. Prior to his appointment as Secretary of State, Powell was the chairman of America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing people from every sector of American life to build the character and competence of young people. He was nominated by President Bush on December 16, 2000, as Secretary of State. After being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he was sworn in as the 65th Secretary of State on January 20, 2001.
Powell is the recipient of numerous U.S. and foreign military awards and decorations. Powell’s civilian awards include two Presidential Medals of Freedom (the second with distinction), the President’s Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. Several schools and other institutions have been named in his honor and he holds honorary degrees from universities and colleges across the country.
- In 1988, Powell received the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award.
- In 1990, Powell received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
- In 1991, Powell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush.
- In 1991, Powell was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
- In 1991, Powell was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, which “honors the achievements of outstanding individuals in U.S. society who have succeeded in spite of adversity and of encouraging young people to pursue their dreams through higher education.”
- On April 23, 1991, Powell was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of his exemplary performance as a military leader and advisor to the President in planning and coordinating the military response of the United States to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the ultimate retreat and defeat of Iraqi forces and Iraqi acceptance of all United Nations Resolutions relating to Kuwait.”
- On September 30, 1993, Powell was awarded his second Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction by President Bill Clinton.
- On November 9, 1993, Powell was awarded the second Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, by President Ronald Reagan. Powell served as Reagan’s National Security Advisor from 1987–1989.
- On December 15, 1993, Colin Powell was created an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
- In 1998, he was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy for his commitment to the ideals of “Duty, Honor, Country.”
- The 2002 Liberty Medal was awarded to Colin Powell on July 4 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his acceptance speech, Powell reminded Americans that “It is for America, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, to help freedom ring across the globe, unto all the peoples thereof. That is our solemn obligation, and we will not fail.”