Joseph T. Powell (1923-2006)

Chaplain (Colonel) Joseph T. Powell, Retired, the first African-American Seventh-day Adventist Chaplain in the U.S. Army, has passed away. Powell died August 21 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Loma Linda, California. Powell, 85, had been suffering with a heart condition for several years.

Powell’s life was to be celebrated with a military funeral at the Kansas Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church in Riverside, California, at 3 p.m. (PT) on August 29. “Joseph Powell was an exemplary role model and mentor to me and to thousands,” U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black told Black Voice News Online. Black was to give the eulogy at the service. (The ceremony will be streamed on

The youngest of five children, Powell was born on November 11, 1923 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Clarence and Alethia Powell. He attended Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, Alabama, where he met his wife, the former Alice Pettiford. They enjoyed 61 years of marriage.

Powell entered his ministry as dean of boys at Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania in1947 to 1952. During this time he completed his Bachelors of Divinity degree at Washington Theological Seminary (now the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.)

Upon entering the U.S. Army as the first African-American Adventist chaplain in 1952, Powell was posted almost immediately to Korea where he served in a evacuation hospital. He gave character guidance lectures and conducted worship services at the camp stockade and hospital, as well as the Korean Union Mission compound. He spent many hours in hospital visitation and also worked at an orphanage for blind children.

Between active duty postings in the Korea and Vietnam conflicts, Powell served as a young pastor in North Carolina. Powell helped Martin Luther King, Jr. organize sit-ins at local restaurants and integrate public school, and he worked tirelessly to promote equality and justice for people in the Durham community.

Army life took the Powell family around the world. Powell completed several tours of duty in Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and other assignments. .

Powell retired from the Army in 1975. He entered a new phase of ministry as a chaplain and an assistant professor of religion at Oakwood. Later in his career, he also pastored in Los Angeles, California.            

On September 11, 2006, a U.S. flag was flown over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, command headquarters, in honor of Colonel Powell. The flag now resides in the Joseph T. Powell Auditorium of the Bradford Cleveland Brooks Leadership Center at Oakwood University.

Powell’s ministry was noted for his dedication and excellence. “Powell set the standard for outstanding. He is respected and loved by everyone,” Lt. Col. Bill Howe, Armed Forces Day leader, told Black Voices News Online.

“My husband was a wonderful husband, pastor, father, dean, soldier, and chaplain. But most of all he was a wonderful friend, says Mrs. Alice Powell.

Powell is survived by his wife Alice Pettiford Powell; daughters Cynthia Powell-Hicks, and JoAnne Powell Lightford; and five grandchildren.