Colin Powell, who died on Monday at age 84 due to complications of COVID-19, was more than just a revered United States Army general and the first African-American Secretary of State. Powell also was an advisory board member at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, starting in 1996 until his death.
Powell visited the NLBM in 2001, and he received a tour from founder Buck O’Neil and NLBM president Bob Kendrick. It was extra special for O’Neil to host Powell, because O’Neil was a Navy man in World War II and the two talked non-stop throughout the tour.
“When you have Gen. Powell and Buck O’Neil, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to say. I was just trying to absorb it all,” Kendrick said. “You knew you were in the presence of greatness. There was certainly a regalness about [Powell]. Yet, there was also this acute fascination and interest in the [Negro Leagues] story that we preserved.”
As he was walking through the museum, Powell saw a photo of Louis Armstrong and the Armstrong Secret 9, a semi-pro Negro Leagues team that the trumpeter owned. Powell suddenly was reduced to a little kid, and he told O’Neil and Kendrick that his father, Luther Powell, played for the Secret 9.
“It was one of those really neat moments,” Kendrick said. “You can tell it took him back, and then he was back to being the general again. We were very much in awe of [Gen. Powell]. We were so deeply honored that he had taken time out to come and experience the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with us.”
Last year, with NLBM celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of the Negro Leagues, Powell was one of many who created a video and showed their appreciation to the Negro Leagues by tipping his cap.
“If you go back to that video, you hear him talk about those [players] who defied the odds and overcame adversity. They inspired Powell,” Kendrick said. “They helped lay the foundation so he could basically cross that bridge that they built. That’s why he felt compelled to tip his cap to the Negro Leagues.”