‘An Officer and a Gentleman’
Recalling General Colin L. Powell’s departure from the Great Blacks in Wax National Museum on North Avenue after the unveiling of his wax figure in 1996, Dr. Joanne Martin shared what the youngest and first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did as he walked down the street.
“By the time we had this event, everyone knew Colin Powell would be at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum,” recalled Dr. Martin, who founded the museum with her husband, the late Dr. Elmer Martin. “There were houses on the block at the time, and people sat on their steps and folks parked on the other side of the street waiting to get a glimpse of him. Cars were driving by honking their horns. Colin Powell emerged from the museum and began walking down the street. He put up his hands in a “Black Power” salute and said, ‘Hello my Brothers! Hello my Sisters!”
She added, “He stepped out of this image that was this strict military ruling person and just engaged with people at the event and throughout the night. That was the most impressive thing for me.”
Powell’s wax figure was commissioned by The Baltimore Times and Chrysler Corporation. He attended the event with his wife Alma. The memorable unveiling ceremony of his likeness drew many notables including the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, the late Senator Clarence Blount, then- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, and former Maryland Governor Paris Glendening.
“This honor has touched me deeply,” said Powell. “I am able to be added to the Great Blacks in Wax Museum because of the sacrifice and suffering of every one of the people whose likeness is in that museum. This is not only African-American history — it’s American history.”
General Powell’s figure currently sits in the museum’s “Blacks in the Military” exhibit alongside fellow Four- Star Generals Daniel Chappie James and Benjamin O. Davis, and is slated for permanent placement in the “Gallery of War, Conquest and Valor” after museum renovations are complete.
General Powell, the first African American U.S. Secretary of State, died at the age of 84 on October 18, 2021 from complications from COVID-19. The statesman and diplomat is credited with shaping American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century into the early years of the 21st century.
“People talk about the fact that General Powell defended what turned out not to be true about weapons of mass destruction, and he said that he knew that would be mentioned in his obituary and in documentaries” said Dr. Martin, referencing, Powell’s advocacy for the Iraq War, a decision he later said he regretted ‘because the information was wrong.’ “That may have been a negative,” continued Dr. Martin, “But he achieved so many positives. What made us proud of General Powell was that in the midst of all the challenges we face as Black people trying to advance in the military or corporately, along with surviving issues of race in America, he did achieve. That’s a big burden to have to bear, but one that is indicative of our past and present in our country, where we have had to fight against so many obstacles that are tantamount to us.”
She added, “That’s what made people want to see a wax figure of him in the museum, and that’s what made people sit out on their steps and wait to get a glimpse of him walking out of the museum. We have so much pride in General Powell.”
General Powell grew up in The Bronx, New York and was the son of Jamaican immigrants. A trailblazer who broke barrier after barrier, his military career took him from the rough terrain of Vietnam to the White House, becoming the first African American security advisor during the close of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He was once considered a serious contender for the U.S. presidency, but opted not to run, and was highly regarded for his role in the United States-led coalition victory during the Gulf War.
Sharing fond memories of the unveiling of General Powell’s figure at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum on December 17, 1996, The Baltimore Times founder and publisher, Joy Bramble remembered the highly decorated soldier as “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
“With all of his achievements, General Powell was so humble,” said Bramble. “He was pleasant and greeted everybody. He also took out his handkerchief, tied it around his head, and danced with me to Calypso music. I will forever treasure that memory. The unveiling of Colin Powell’s wax figure is among my greatest Baltimore Times highlights. We were honored to put a statue of him in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and he was so gracious when he was here. He spoke to everybody and was just wonderful.”
Bramble said Chrysler Corporation was instrumental in bringing the wax figure to fruition, and noted Frank Fountain, Chairman of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum Foundation attended the event. “It was The Baltimore Times’ 10th Anniversary, and I wanted to do something significant to mark the occasion,” she said. “I’m big on supporting Black businesses. I thought it would be a wonderful way to celebrate 10 years in business, support the great Blacks in Wax as a Black business, and pay homage to Colin Powell.
Dena Wane stepped up and worked alongside the Great Blacks in Wax and Chrysler to bring the project to fruition.” Dena Wane is Director of Special Projects for The Baltimore Times. “I remember the Great Blacks in Wax being packed and everybody having a great time,” said Wane of the 1996 event. “It was such an honor and a privilege for me and my then three-year old granddaughter, Tiara, to meet General Powell. He has played such an integral role in our nation’s history. I salute General Powell for his contributions to our nation and the world.”