Colin Powell: The Native New Yorker, Remembered

Christina Knight | October 18, 2021


THIRTEEN will broadcast HistoryMakers: An Evening with Colin Powell on Friday, October 22 at 10 p.m. Stream now.

Colin Powell was born to Jamaican immigrant parents in Harlem in 1937, was raised in The Bronx, and graduated from City College, where he served in ROTC. Powell joined the Army and first served as a military advisor in Vietnam in 1962. He rose to become a four-star general and the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989) and U.S. Secretary of State (2001-2005). Powell died on October 18, 2021 from COVID-19 complications. He had multiple myeloma, a plasma cell cancer that suppresses the body’s immune response. He was 84 and vaccinated.

He wrote in his autobiography My American Journey, “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx.”

One of Powell’s first jobs was at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant in Long Island City, Queens. The Pepsi-Cola neon sign can still be seen across the East River from Manhattan’s United Nations headquarters, where Powell participated in sessions many times. His most famous appearance there was as U.S. Secretary of State in 2003. He told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction, the pretext for America starting the Iraq War.

On Friday, October 22 at 10 p.m., THIRTEEN will broadcast the 2006 episode, HistoryMakers: An Evening with Colin Powell, in which Colin Powell provides a rare and insightful look into his life and career. HistoryMakers is a nonprofit committed to preserving and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans. This episode was taped in front of an audience at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium.

A man with grey hair wears suit and tie.

Colin Powell screenshot in HistoryMakers episode.


At the time of the interview, Colin Powell had entered his “second retirement” from public service. Throughout, Powell shares personal stories with humor. He recounts growing up in the South Bronx, why he joined ROTC (he is the first ROTC graduate to rise to Joint Chiefs of Staff), and attending the summit meeting of President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Governors Island in New York Harbor, while serving as National Security Adviser to President Reagan.

Powell also shares his knowledge about the history of Black men serving in U.S. military history. As a Brigadier General, Powell led the creation of the Buffalo Soldiers Monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to honor the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of the U.S. Army.

This special includes archival photos from Colin Powell’s family and reporting about his life.

Read more about Powell’s career and death on PBS NewsHour.

On the October 18 edition of Amanpour and Company, Wolf Blitzer will provide a look back on the life of Colin Powell. Amanpour and Company airs at 11:30 p.m. and repeats the next day at 4 p.m. on THIRTEEN (see schedule for all The WNET Group stations).