The Faces of the African American National Biography
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Colin Powell was born in Jamaica and grew up in the Bronx. After joining the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) while attending the City College of New York, he embarked upon a military career that has made him one of the most recognizable United States military officers in the world today. Serving as a captain in Vietnam just months after his marriage to Alma Vivian Johnson, he received the Purple Heart after being injured by a booby trap set by the Viet Cong in 1962. He received a second Purple Heart in 1968, when he was wounded in a helicopter accident and saved other servicemen from the crash site despite his injuries. Rising quickly in the ranks, he also distinguished himself in political and diplomatic appointments, such as arranging the groundbreaking meetings between Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev. Powell's effective leadership in the Persian Gulf War brought him to the attention of the American public, and his career rose still higher with his appointment as Secretary of State by George W. Bush. He resigned the position in President Bush's second term and retired to private life, being replaced by Condoleezza Rice, the first African American woman to head the State Department.