Colin Powell’s affirmative action stance also defined him as a Black Republican

Colin Powell’s profession within the navy and public service concerned leaping over hurdles as a Black man in America. 

And in 2003, he jumped into the fray over affirmative action. As the nation’s first Black secretary of state, he spoke out about Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark Supreme Court case involving the University of Michigan Law School and racial choice in admissions. In doing so, he broke ranks with the White House and then-President George W. Bush. 

“I’m a strong believer in affirmative action,” Powell mentioned on the time on the CBS information program “Face the Nation.” He later echoed these sentiments on CNN. 

“I wish it was possible for everything to be race-neutral in this country, but I’m afraid we’re not yet at that point where things are race-neutral,” he mentioned. “I believe race should be a factor, among many other facts, in determining the makeup of the student body of a university.”

This wasn’t the primary time Powell, who died Monday at age 84, had spoken out about affirmative action, notes Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. He was constant in his beliefs, even as some conservatives and different detractors used the time period as a slight towards him, claiming the four-star basic had ascended in his profession solely due to affirmative action.

During the Republican National Convention in 2000, “Powell gave a speech urging the party to moderate their positions on race, and he talked about affirmative action,” Gillespie mentioned. 

“We must understand the cynicism that exists in the Black community, the kind of cynicism that is created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand Black kids get an education,” Powell advised the viewers.

“But hardly a whimper is heard over affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax codes with preferences for special interests,” he added. 

“He took a courageous stance,” Gillespie mentioned. “He did so at a time when the GOP was shifting to the right on racial issues.”

Gillespie described Powell’s passing as “the end of an era” for a sure cohort of Black Republicans within the trend of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke III, elected in 1966; and Arthur Fletcher, a Black Republican typically known as “the father of affirmative action” who served as assistant secretary of labor in President Richard Nixon’s administration. 

“They were ideological moderates, pro-civil rights,” Gillespie mentioned. “Their role was to push for the party’s plank of civil rights, and it was welcomed and encouraged,” she mentioned, by moderates such as the so-called Rockefeller Republicans. 

To perceive Powell’s ideology, one should take into account his uniquely American story, explains Chad Williams, chair of African and African American research at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. 

Powell was born to Jamaican immigrants in Harlem within the Nineteen Thirties. 

He attended public faculties and graduated from the City College of New York in 1958. While in faculty, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and acquired a fee as second lieutenant upon commencement. After fundamental coaching at Fort Benning, Georgia, he launched into a navy profession that took him to operational and command assignments within the United States, Germany, Vietnam and South Korea.

He had been a White House Fellow in 1972, labored as an govt assistant within the Energy and Defense departments throughout President Jimmy Carter’s administration, served as senior navy assistant to President Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, and was Reagan’s nationwide safety adviser from 1987 to 1989.

These management roles culminated in his appointment as the primary Black officer to carry the nation’s highest navy submit. President George H.W. Bush introduced he’d named Gen. Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989. Later in Bush’s presidency, Powell grew to become the architect of Operation Desert Shield, which moved American and worldwide forces to the Middle East to launch Operation Desert Storm. The navy operation reversed the invasion of Kuwait and defeated the Iraqi military. 

“When I heard of Powell’s passing, I was immediately reminded of what DuBois referred to as the “double-consciousness” of the African American expertise,” mentioned Williams, who spoke to NBC News and has also explored these themes in an essay for The Conversation

“As DuBois put it in an 1897 article and later in his classic 1903 book “The Souls of Black Folk,” this “peculiar sensation” is exclusive to African Americans: “One feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

This idea, Williams believes, aptly describes Powell “as a soldier, a career military man and a politician.”

“On the surface, Colin Powell’s life would seem to refute DuBois’ formulation. He stood as someone that many people could point to as an example of how it is possible to be both Black and a full American, something DuBois viewed as an enduring tension,” he writes. “There is a narrative that Powell used the military to transcend race and become one of the most powerful men in the country. In that sense, he was the ultimate American success story.”

Yet, Williams mentioned, there may be a hazard to that narrative. “Colin Powell’s story was exceptional, but he was no avatar of a colorblind, post-racial America.”

Indeed, many students and pundits cite how Powell — at one level touted as a potential Republican presidential contender — crossed get together strains to endorse Barack Obama’s presidential marketing campaign in 2008. And later, his public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency, which alienated him from the GOP he beloved. 

“He always categorized himself as being willing to make up his own mind and he frequently reflected on the ways, especially when it came to social issues, that his stances did not align with the Republican Party,” historian Betsy Loren Plumb mentioned.

“His reasoned approach to politics — his willingness to grapple with and ‘accept hard realities’ as he states in his bio, My American Journey — led to this ideological independence. He noted that he himself benefited from affirmative action. There was a historical imbalance in access and opportunity and it was fair, to Powell’s mind, that those imbalances be corrected. His experience, as a Black man, equipped him with the ability to assess the situation expertly and honestly. He lived those hard realities.” 

Kay Coles James has served and suggested 4 presidential administrations. She is now the primary Black girl to serve as president of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative suppose tank. 

“We go way, way back,” she mentioned of interacting with Powell professionally and forming a friendship. 

“What a profound impact he’s had on this country and so many lives as a youth mentor and role model,” she mentioned. “One of his most lasting legacies is that he is a credible Black Republican conservative. We don’t have a lot of those,” she mentioned. “One that garnered the respect of all.”

In 2003, Powell laid out what he mentioned on the time was proof of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations Security Council. It turned out to be false, one thing Powell acknowledged tarnished his legacy. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq led to many years of chaos and violence in that nation, and broader destabilization of the Middle East.

As high-profile Black Republicans, James and Powell had many conversations. But when requested in the event that they ever mentioned affirmative action, she mentioned, “we did not.”

People should “tread lightly” and outline the phrases round affirmative action, she famous. “Those very words mean so many things to so many different people.”

James prefers to border the problem not as affirmative action, however “affirmative access” that means: do folks of coloration have the entry to compete on an equal footing? 

She posits that Powell’s legacy is the blueprint for this. “No one should dare question his achievements. Yes, he was the first African American to break many barriers. But you can’t say he checked some “African American” field. It was due to his data, expertise and skills.”

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