General Colin Powell, who made history as the first Black person to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, has died of complications from covid-19. He was 84. Powell’s death was announced by his family in a statement on social media.
“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19. He was fully vaccinated,” the statement on Powell’s official Facebook page said. “We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”
According to NBC News, Powell was also battling multiple myeloma, cancer that affects the white blood cells.
Powell lived a storied life, including an iconic career in which he was no stranger to making history. He was also the first Black national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan and the youngest and first Black person to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush. He served twice in Vietnam, where he was wounded in action and received the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning helicopter, CNN reported.
However, his rise to success did not come without criticism or controversy. In 2003, Powell recommended that the U.S. invade Iraq in an infamous speech before the United Nations in which he said there was intelligence showing evidence that the country had weapons of mass destruction.
“I cannot tell you everything that we know, but what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling. What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts and Iraqis’ behavior, Iraq’s behavior, demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort, to disarm, as required by the international community,” Powell said in the Feb. 5, 2003 speech.
“Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction,” Powell continued.
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Powell’s statements later proved unsubstantiated and left an indelible stain on his legacy. After much of the evidence he presented was proved false, Powell said he had been misled about the intelligence used and was unaware “much of the evidence was wrong.” In his book, “It Worked For Me,” Powell said his U.N. speech was “a failure” that “will always be attached” to him.
“There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t,” Powell wrote in a chapter entitled, “Tell Me What You Know,” according to a 2012 Bloomberg article. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”
Powell was also criticized by Republicans for his stance in disagreeing with President Bush and supporting affirmative action in 2003. He resigned as Secretary of State in 2004.
Born in 1937 in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants, Powell worked his way through the military ranks after graduating high school. He enlisted in 1958 and ultimately rose to the rank of four-star general.
A loyal Republican for most of his life, in his later years, Powell became disillusioned with the party and publicly supported Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election. After the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, Powell said he was no longer affiliated with any party.
“I’m not a fellow of anything right now,” he said during a CNN interview. “I’m just a citizen who has voted Republican, voted Democrat throughout my entire career. And right now I’m just watching my country and not concerned with parties.”
Condolences, tributes and some criticism poured in after Powell’s death was announced.
“The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed. Alma lost a great husband, and the family lost a tremendous father. And I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said in a statement. “He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart, just learning of this recently.”
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement. “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. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Others weren’t so kind. “Colin Powell is going to be remembered today as a statesman but he should be remembered for using his gravitas to sell a war he knew was a lie,” Eoin Higgins tweeted.
“At the personal level, Colin Powell was a nice man. He was also a trailblazer. But he was also a military leader and key strategist of an empire that killed countless people and undermined the sovereignty of multiple nations. In our memorials, we must be honest about all of this,” Marc Lamont Hill tweeted.
Gen. Powell is survived by his wife Alma and three children. Memorial information is pending.