This week’s passing of Colin Powell invited me to reflect on the impact of him as an American icon. I strongly disagreed with the decision of the Bush administration to go to war in Iraq and I was sorry that General Powell gave testimony in the United Nations that provided the cover for that war. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein did not pose a credible threat to the integrity of the United States. I wrote letters to the Bush Administration at the time and at one point received a nice reply from the oval office.
Colin Powell became the first black Secretary of State on the United States on January 20, 2001. He became the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 1, 1989. Prior to that he was Deputy National Security advisor in the Reagan Administration. General Powell’s life was full of firsts. That’s wonderful to be sure. The larger question for me is why did it take so long for America to put a black person in those positions? Africans came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. It took three-hundred and seventy years for one to ascend to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Surely General Powell was not the first African American to serve in our military. Why did it take so long for Black Americans to rise to general officer ranks? Who were the Buffalo Soldiers? Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?
Jackie Robinson broke the ‘color line’ in 1947. Why were there ‘Negro Leagues’? Why are there no women’s faces on our currency? Why were the original owners of the America’s denied citizenship until 1925? Why did we need a Fourteenth Amendment? Why no people of color on currency, stamps and national emblems. Slaves built the White House. Is that fact taught in our schools?
Lately there’s been lots of discussion of ‘Critical Race Theory‘ and the ‘1619 Project‘. There are folks in this country that still have a problem acknowledging our history as en-slavers and murderers of Africans and Native Americans. Those are not pleasant memories nor should they be. Acknowledging and accepting our past is the pathway to a hopeful future.