Colin Powell had mixed legacy among some African Americans

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As an American leader, Colin Powell’s credentials were impeccable: he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State. But his legacy as the first black man in those roles remains unclear, with some African Americans saying that his voice could have been louder on his behalf.

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Powell, who died of COVID-19 complications on Monday, spent 35 years in the military and rose to political prominence under Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. His stature has fueled persistent speculation that he would one day run for president as a member of the GOP.

Through it all, Powell never felt completely comfortable talking about race, said Kevin Powell, a New York-based writer and rights activist who is not related to Colin Powell.


“I think that’s why a lot of black people never saw him as a leader. It never seemed like Colin Powell was one of us,” said Kevin Powell, who met him in the 1990s, when He was often discussed as a potential presidential candidate.

Colin Powell later became disillusioned with the GOP and backed Democrats for president, Barack Obama. .

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Kevin Powell, who is also black, said, “By the time the Bush years ended, in 2009, he was largely invisible in a lot of things – Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, George Floyd.” “It was clear that the party he was part of was on the right track. I don’t remember ever saying that this party had become nothing but a race.

But according to military veteran and Detroit-based political activist Sam Riddle, Powell’s dignity and restraint should not be interpreted as any indication that he failed to understand the struggle of his people.

“He represented a quiet inner force we knew was on the battlefield for America and black Americans,” said Riddle, who also hosts the Detroit talk radio show. “The only bullhorns we can use are calm aptitude, integrity, and perseverance.”

Powell expressed concern over the US rate of incarceration, which has consistently been the highest in the world. He supported policies designed to keep young adults, especially black Americans, out of the criminal justice system.

Years before the 2020 murder of George Floyd sparked renewed calls from the Black Lives Matter movement to “defund the police,” Powell said he was in favor of reducing law enforcement budgets to address police brutality. I was not. He was skeptical that many black Americans agreed.

A June 2020 poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research around the height of that summer’s police protests showed that 43% of black Americans strongly or somewhat supported reducing police funding , while 30% opposed the idea.

“You can’t say, ‘We should disinvest criminal justice, the police, and the courts,'” Powell said in 2017. “They’re not just there to protect white people. They’re also there to protect black people.”

He continued: “If you tell a black community leader that the police aren’t going to be around, they might say, ‘Whoa! Wait!’ What they want is fair and balanced justice treatment for all Americans.”

A child of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City, Powell said he was raised in a community where his neighbors as invested in his safety and success as his own mother and father Was.

“I had adults who care about me,” Powell said in a 2017 interview with Mike. “My two parents, all my Jamaican relatives in the South Bronx, they used to look out for us kids. And if you ever did anything wrong, I mean, you were gonna get it.”

Powell graduated from the City College of New York in 1958, which later created the Colin Powell Center for Developing Student Leadership and Campus Community Engagement. The program was eventually renamed the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

In the wake of Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter protests, the school launched a Racial Justice Fellows program as a joint initiative between the Colin Powell School and CCNY’s Black Studies Program.

According to Andrew Rich, dean of the Colin Powell School, Powell once said that he wanted the next generation to have opportunities like him.

Being a black American “defined my experience,” Rich said. “He was a pioneer in every sense. I think he was well aware of the barriers he broke. One of the things he was so proud of was that he knocked on open doors and didn’t lock them behind him.” .

Former President Barack Obama said on Monday that Powell “helped a generation of young people raise their vision” and “never denied the role that race has played in their lives and in our society more broadly”. played.”

“But he also refused to acknowledge that race would limit his dreams, and through his steady and principled leadership, helped pave the way for so many people,” Obama said.

Many black people look to high-achieving African Americans to act on their behalf, said Frederick Gooding, associate professor of the humanities at Texas Christian University.

“Maybe they just expect a Colin Powell to be more or less than he should be. This may be one of those deals where he didn’t speak for every black person, but at the same time it Well he doesn’t,” Gooding said.

Gooding said Powell’s career and his long record of public service reflect his excellence.

“When it comes to African Americans, at times, when you are so stifled by the struggle to speak out, when you have a position of power and privilege, do you take advantage of it?” Gooding said. “He may not be a front-line cheerleader, but he isn’t…

Credit: / Colin Powell

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