The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) celebrates the life and contributions of the late Gen. Colin Powell (1937–2021) with a dedication ceremony naming its military gallery the “General Colin L. Powell Gallery” on Sept. 22. The change reflects Powell’s long-standing support for the museum and his lifelong service to the country. Powell’s story is also featured in the museum gallery alongside several objects he donated to the museum’s collection, including two military uniforms.

“A trailblazer, a true leader and a tireless advocate for the museum, General Powell’s legacy lives on through the millions of visitors who walk through the museum’s doors,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Colin Powell’s story is woven into our nation’s history.”

The military gallery, which includes more than 170 objects, conveys a sense of appreciation and respect for the military service of African Americans throughout the nation’s history. The gallery uses its more than 3,400 square feet to establish an understanding of how the African American military experience shapes opportunities for the greater community and has profoundly shaped the nation. The Powell family is currently working with NMAAHC to bring additional items into the national collection representing Gen. Powell’s life and career.

The General Colin L. Powell Gallery is a part of the museum’s “Double Victory: The African American Military Experience” exhibit, presented in three sections: “Struggle for Freedom,” which considers the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War; “Segregated Military,” which covers the so-called Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II; and “Stirrings of Change to a Colorblind Military,” which examines the Korean and Vietnam wars and the current war on terrorism. Artifacts include Civil War badges, weapons and photographs, a flag of the 9th Regiment U.S. Colored Volunteers, a WWI Croix de Guerre medal awarded to U.S. soldier Lawrence McVey, various Tuskegee Airmen materials and a U.S. Army Service hat worn by Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown. A seating area in the center of the exhibition features a short film offering a chronological overview of African Americans in the military, delving deeper into stories that examine the breadth and depth of their contributions. A special section devoted to Medal of Honor recipients, with a moving vista to the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, completes the exhibit.

“General Powell was one of the most important and transformative leaders in public service,” said Kenneth Chenault, chairman of NMAAHC’s museum council and chairman and managing director, General Catalyst. “This honor is a tribute to General Powell’s dedication to the museum and his lifelong service to our country.”

For more than a decade, Powell was a stalwart supporter of the Smithsonian and a highly engaged leader for NMAAHC. He also had the unique distinction of being featured in one of the museum’s inaugural exhibitions. Powell was consistently and notably generous, donating 29 personal objects to NMAAHC’s collection and joining the distinguished group of founding donors who supported the museum at the highest level prior to its opening. He and his wife Alma Powell collectively gave more than $2 million to the Smithsonian and NMAAHC.

Powell’s efforts during his military service earned him numerous prominent awards, including a Congressional Gold Medal in March 1991, “in recognition of his exemplary performance in planning and coordinating” the U.S. response to Iraq’s invasion, and two Presidential Medals of Freedom. Other notable awards include the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He received his fourth star in 1989, becoming the second African American to rise to the rank of four-star general. In addition to the military awards, Powell also received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award and the Legion of Honor, the highest order of merit from France.

Powell served two tours in South Vietnam during the 1960s, where he was wounded twice, including during a helicopter crash in which he rescued his fellow soldiers, and was subsequently awarded the Soldier’s Medal. He was involved in some of the most notable American military actions of the late 20th century, including the 1989 Panama operation, the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S. humanitarian intervention in Somalia. He served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 until his retirement from the Army in 1993 after 35 years of service. In 2001, he was appointed secretary of state under President George W. Bush, becoming the first African American to hold that position.

In 2010, Powell joined NMAAHC as a founding council member. He served on the advisory council and provided steady and gracious support to the museum through his leadership for more than a decade.

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed nearly 8 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit or follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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