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General Colin Powell: Son of Hollis

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By DAVID OATS, Special Projects Editor, Queens Courier

Colin Powell: A Son Of Queens Wows Republican Convention When the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia opened on Monday night most television networks decided not to air gavel to gavel coverage, under the presumption that most of the event that night was pre-scripted and the nomination of George W. Bush a certainty.
But the networks did break in at 10 p.m. to cover the most dramatic moments of the confab for the evening — the address by Retired General Colin Powell.

The former National Security advisor to President Ronald Reagan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff electrified the convention hall. In language rarely heard in the confines of a G.O.P. gathering, the revered soldier — while praising its presumptive nominee Texas Governor George W. Bush — charged his party with racial hypocrisy.

"We must understand the cynicism that exists in the black community," Powell lectured. "The kind of cynicism that is created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education — but you hardly hear a whimper when it’s the corporate lobbyists that load our tax code with preferences for special interests."

Powell said that while America is enjoying boom times "the world is watching to see if all this power and wealth is just for the well-to-do, the comfortable, the privileged."

The remarks roused the crowd, unlike at the last Republican convention in 1996 when Powell’s remarks were greeted with boos from many in the crowd.

The fact that this figure of national stature would deliver such remarks before the convention appear to stem form his own modest beginnings in Queens. As a young boy in the early 1940s, Powell and his family longed to leave their rented apartment in the Bronx to visit his uncle and aunts house in Jamaica. The family dream was to move "up" by owning a house in the suburbs. The Powell’s eventually managed to buy the house at 183-68 Elmira Avenue in Hollis, Queens for $17,500. Powell writes in his autobiography, My American Journey, "the house was a three-bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood in transition, the whites were moving out and the blacks moving in. My folks bought from a Jewish family named Weiner, one of the few white families left. The neighborhood looked beautiful to us, and the Hollis address carried a certain cachet, a cut above Jamaica, Queens and just below St. Albans, then another gold coast for middle class blacks."

Powell continues, "Our new home was ivy-covered, well kept and comfortable, and had a family room and a bar in a finished basement. Pop was now a property holder, eager to mow his postage-stamp lawn and prune his fruit trees. My father had joined the gentry." Powell later recounts in his book how he would later commute from Queens to City College and how proud he was to study geology there. He recounts telling a classmate that the Hudson River really isn’t a river. They replied by telling him ""What are you talking about? College kid. Schmuck. Everybody knows the Hudson River’s a river."

Powell said, "I would then explain that the Hudson was a "drowned" river, up to about Poughkeepsie. The Ice Age had depressed the riverbed to a depth that allowed the Atlantic Ocean to flood inland. Consequently, the lower Hudson was really a saltwater estuary. I proudly pinpointed the farthest advance of the Ice Age. it stopped at Hillside Avenue running through Queens. You can see the ground sloping down along that line into St. Albans and Jamaica. I was startled to earn an A in one of my geology courses and wound up with three A’s in my major by graduation."

Of course, Powell went on to a brilliant military career and is today one of the country's most respected figures.

Powell was not the first Queens native to electrify a national convention. At the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco, N.Y. Governor Mario Cuomo became a major national figure when he gave a roaring and eloquent keynote address. Coincidentally, Cuomo’s roots in Queens mirrored Powells. Born above his immigrant Italian folk’s grocery store in South Jamaica, one of the proudest moments for his family was when his father bought a home in Holliswood, Queens.

In addition, at that same convention, Queens Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro of Forest Hills also mesmerized the delegates and the nation when she delivered her acceptance speech on becoming the first woman to be nominated for vice president of the United States.

 

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Last modified: May 01, 2008