ROCHESTER, Minn. - Colin Powell, the first black U.S. Secretary of State, whose leadership in several Republican administrations helped shape American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century and early years of the 21st has died from complications from COVID-19.
While the 84-year-old was fully vaccinated, Powell was battling blood cancer and was immunocompromised, which contributed to his death.
He’s now being remembered as a devoted public servant and true American success story.
President of Rochester’s branch of the NAACP Wale Elegbede said, “His story is the American story. I mean his parents are Jamaican immigrants, coming to New York, so it's really painful just seeing him go this way.”
A veteran of the Vietnam war Powell rose to the rank of four-star general and in 1989 became the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
When President George W. Bush appointed Powell Secretary of State he became the highest-ranking African American official in the history of the United States.
Elegbede added, “The impact he has is global, it's global. Whether it's in his work credentials or even in terms of what he's done as a civilian. It's just strong ethical leadership.”
Though initially opposed to the idea Powell agreed to go along with the Bush administration's plan to forcibly overthrow Saddam Hussein. He went before the United Nations to build a case for invading Iraq.
At the time Powell said, “Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.”
Inaccuracies were later found in Powell's speech with the Bush administration conceding it had acted on faulty intelligence. Political analyst Rayce Hardy says Powell admitted the UN speech was a painful blot on his record.
Hardy explained, “The last 15 years he spoke about having to have that on his record and that he'd wished, after finding out there weren't weapons of mass destruction across the country in Iraq, he wished he would never have made that speech.”
Despite that blemish, Powell's dedication to the U.S. remains his lasting legacy.
“His dedication to the military, to military personal, but also his dedication to the country as a whole I really think we need to remember that,” added Hardy.
Elegbede said, “For our youth, for our children, he was a great black leader; someone we hold dearly.”
Powell is also known for serving presidents on both sides of the aisle. In 2008 the long-time Republican made news when he endorsed Barack Obama for president.