This Day In History: September 21, 1989

September 21, 1989 Powell becomes Joint Chiefs’ chairman

The Senate Armed Forces Committee unanimously confirms President George H. Bush’s nomination of Army General Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell was the first African American to achieve the United States’ highest military post.

Powell was born in 1937 in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrant parents. Joining the U.S. Army after college, he served two tours in Vietnam before holding several high-level military posts during the 1970s and 1980s. From 1987 to 1989, he was national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan and in 1989 reached the pinnacle of his profession when he was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President George Bush. As chairman, General Powell’s greatest achievement was planning the swift U.S. victory over Iraq in 1991’s Persian Gulf War. In 1993, he retired as chairman.

Two years later, he embarked on a national tour to promote his autobiography, My American Journey, fueling speculation that he was testing the waters for a possible presidential campaign. By the fall of 1995, public enthusiasm over the possibility of his running for president had reached a feverish pitch. Regarded as a moderate Republican, opinion polls showed Powell trailing close behind Republican favorite Bob Dole and favored over Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton. However, in November 1995, he announced that he would not run for president in the next election, citing concerns for his family’s well-being and a lack of passion for the rigors of political life.

From 1997, he served as chairman of “America’s Promise–The Alliance for Youth,” a national nonprofit organization dedicated to building the character and competence of young people. In December 2000, Powell was appointed the first African American U.S. secretary of state by President-elect George W. Bush. Unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he was sworn in on January 20, 2001 and held that position until January 26, 2005. He was succeeded by Condoleezza Rice.

D. K. Smith

D. K. Smith

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