Retired 4-Star General, Secretary of State Colin Powell Will Visit USC Upstate for Dr. John B. Edmunds, Jr. Distinguished Lecture Series

November 21, 2019 at 4:03 pm
Retired four-star General Colin Powell will speak at USC Upstate in March.

Retired four-star U.S. Army General and American statesman Colin L. Powell will be the featured speaker at the University of South Carolina Upstate’s seventh annual Dr. John B. Edmunds, Jr. Distinguished Lecture Series. The event will be held on March 19, 2020. Tickets for the event will be available beginning January 15.

Powell will speak on the theme of leadership, drawing from his personal experiences as a military leader, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state.

“As USC Upstate continues to grow, our capability to bring in dignitaries like General Powell serves to underscore the impact we’re having on the Upstate region and beyond,” said Chancellor Brendan Kelly.

Powell was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City’s borough of Manhattan in 1937 to Jamaican immigrants Maud Arial and Luther Theophilus Powell. Raised the South Bronx, Powell attended New York City public schools and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the City College of New York (CCNY).

While he was a student at CCNY, Powel joined the college’s Army ROTC program, which set him on a path to pursue a military career. He received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon his graduation in 1958.

Powell served two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1962 and 1969. He earned 11 military decorations, including a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, a Soldier’s Medal and the Legion of Merit.

After completing his service in Vietnam, Powell earned a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He won a White House fellowship in 1972 and was assigned to the Office of Management and Budget with President Richard M. Nixon’s administration.

From 1975 to 1976, Powell attended the National War College. During the next decade, he continued to distinguish himself as commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade and senior military assistant to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whom he assisted during the 1983 invasion of Grenada and the 1986 airstrike on Libya.

In 1987, Powell became the national security adviser for President Ronald Regan’s administration. Two years later, he was promoted to four-star general under President George H.W. Bush and made history by becoming the first African-American appointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the highest military position in the Department of Defense.

Powell became a household name during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq. During the run-up to the Gulf War, he developed what became known as the “Powell Doctrine,” an approach to military conflicts that advocates using overwhelming force to maximize success and minimize casualties.

Following his retirement from the Army in 1993, Powell helped lead a peacekeeping expedition to Haiti, published his best-selling autobiography “My American Journey,” and served as chairman of America’s Promise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering character and competence in young people.

George W. Bush appointed Powell Secretary of State in 2000 and he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. At the time, it was the highest office in civilian government ever held by an African-American. He retired in 2004.

“With his extensive military and political service, General Powell is well-positioned to offer insight and perspective on past political decisions as well as the future challenges that face America and the world,” said Dr. Rob McCormick, interim dean of USC Upstate’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Since entering private life, Powell has served as chairman of the Board of Visitors of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at CCNY. Nine elementary and middle schools across the nation are named after him.

He is a strategic adviser at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, a renowned Silicon Valley Venture Capital Firm, and serves on the boards of alternative energy provider Bloom Energy and, the world’s largest provider of cloud-based customer relationship management software.

Powell has served on the boards of AOL, Gulfstream, Howard University, the United Negro College Fund and the Boys and Girls Club of America.

He sits on the Museum Council of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

His second book, “It Worked For Me: In Life & Leadership,” was an instant New York Times best seller.

Powell’s civil awards include two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President’s Citizenship Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal. He has received awards from more than two-dozen countries to include a French Legion of Honor and an honorary knighthood bestowed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Powell is married to the former Alma Vivian Johnson of Birmingham, Ala. They live in McLean, Va., and have three children and four grandchildren.

For sponsorship opportunities, please contact University Advancement at 864-503-5234. For more information about ticket availability, please email


In its seventh year, the Dr. John B. Edmunds, Jr. Distinguished Lecture Series is dedicated to bringing significant scholars and leaders in history, political science, philosophy and religion to the University of South Carolina Upstate and the Upstate community. Sponsored by the Department of History, Political Science, Philosophy and American Studies at USC Upstate, the series has hosted Peggy Noonan, Rick Atkinson, David McCullough, Bob Woodward, Jon Meacham, and Retired Four-Star Admiral and 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Jim Stavridis. 

Dr. John B. Edmunds, Jr. 

Dr. John B. Edmunds, Jr. served for 43 years as a professor of American history at the University of South Carolina Upstate. A Spartanburg native, Dr. Edmunds earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of South Carolina, where he specialized in the history of the Palmetto State. In 1967, as the first professor hired by the University of South Carolina Upstate, Dr. Edmunds began a career distinguished by excellence as a teacher, a scholar, and an administrator. For more than four decades, Dr. Edmunds inspired Upstate students with his enthusiastic teaching. 

Dr. Edmunds was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of South Carolina history, his deep affection for his native state, and his ability to convey his love for South Carolina to his students. He was the author of two books, “Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction” and “The Episcopal Church of the Advent: History and Records, 1848-1998,” as well as numerous articles on South Carolina.