The biography of Colin Luther Powell (April 5, 1937 – Oct. 18, 2021) shows he was an American statesman, diplomat and four-star general who served as the 65th United States secretary of state from 2001 to 2005 — the first African American to do so. He served as the 16th U.S. National Security Advisor from 1987 to 1989 and as the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993.
My chance to work with and meet Secretary Colin Powell happened only a couple of years after I started working for D.C. Councilman Frank Smith back in the early 1990s as project director of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation, Inc. One day, as he did each week, Dr. Smith talked about his project and the goals God had given to him. He talked about how Gen. Colin Powell represented someone who stood on the shoulders of the 208,145 U.S. Colored Troops and he had reached the highest rank ever for an African American soldier. Therefore, he felt it appropriate to invite Powell for a special event he was thinking of planning.
It would be a real-life replica of the monument to the Black soldiers that God had given to him.
This time, he would utilize real-life subjects, and have them create a replica of the future monument. At that time, we had not yet found sculptor Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky, but he had met with Paul Devrouax (now deceased), whose architectural firm was selected to bring this monument and plaza to fruition. Councilman Smith often said to me, “Lyndia, this story happened more than 100 years ago, we have got to be creative, and find ways to bring this story back to life.” Which is why he got this celebration in his vision, the first among many. He asked me to confirm every re-enactor from the Massachusetts 54th re-enactors Infantry that we could locate as well. An easy task, since the group had already heard about the possibility that a monument was coming for the Black soldiers and volunteered to help us in any way possible. Councilman Smith wanted them dressed in uniform to remind the public of how these Black soldiers looked in the official Civil War uniform for Union soldiers.
We got the job done! When you go to the African American Civil War Museum website, there is a photograph of then-Councilman Frank Smith and General Colin Powell saluting the Black soldier re-enactors. It is a remarkable photograph, and I’m proud to have had a hand in that celebration. When the event was over, I remember walking Powell to his car as his escort. He was such a kind man, and he was extremely proud of the work we were doing to bring this monument to life.
Reuters reports that a memorial service will be held for Colin Powell on Nov. 5 at the Washington National Cathedral. We are all so very sorry to have lost such a gentleman, one who was the first Black to hold three major roles. The day I walked him to his car, was a historic day for me, yet a day that I did not get a photograph with him. So many opportunities I have had to take photos with living legends, but I was always working and not considering what was really going on until 30 or 40 years later. It was a great day, regardless — a memory I will always cherish, even the many phone calls made to his assistant to get him confirmed and to finalize all of the necessary details. We give you a final salute, Colin Powell!
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.