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The Honorable Michael Powell

The Honorable Michael Kevin Powell was born on March 23, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, the only son and eldest child of General Colin Powell and Alma Vivian Johnson Powell. Powell’s father was serving in Vietnam when Powell was born. He attended the College of William and Mary thanks to an ROTC scholarship, and graduated in 1985 with a degree in government. While attending William and Mary, Powell dated Jane Knott, who he would later marry. After college, he served in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Amberg, Germany as a cavalry patrol officer. In 1987, while traveling in a convoy on the Autobahn in Germany, Powell’s jeep crashed and severely injured his pelvis and spine. After being stabilized in Nuremburg’s U.S. Army hospital, Powell spent one year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

This injury curtailed his military career, and Powell returned to civilian work with two years as a policy advisor to the U.S. Defense Secretary, Richard Cheney. He then decided to go to law school, attending Georgetown University’s Law Center, where he graduated from in 1993 with a J.D. degree. He initially worked as a clerk in Washington, D.C.’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Honorable Harry T. Edwards. He was then hired in 1994 as an associate in the Washington, D.C. office for the Los Angeles based law firm O’Melveny & Myers until 1996. While working at O’Melveny & Myers, Powell specialized in telecommunications and antitrust law. The following year, Powell became the chief of staff for the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, advising the Assistant Attorney General on criminal investigations, policy development, and mergers.

On July 31, 1997, President William Jefferson Clinton appointed Powell to serve as a commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and in 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him Chairman of the FCC, the second African American to hold the position. As Chairman, Powell intended to modernize FCC regulations and emphasize the importance of the shift from analog to digital technologies. He also encouraged market-driven solutions to promote consumer interest, which involved a general deregulation of the marketplace; Powell’s philosophy highlighted the idea that regulation limits consumer choice. Powell’s well-known accomplishments were the establishment of a “Do-Not-Call” list to avoid telemarketers and forcing wireless carriers to allow consumers to maintain their phone numbers even when switching services. Powell was also responsible for overseeing the Commission’s National Security Emergency Preparedness utility. Powell left the FCC in 2005.

Powell is Senior Advisor with Providence Equity Partners and Chairman of the MK Powell Group. He is Rector of the College of William and Mary. Powell is also an Aspen trustee and serves on the Rand Corporation Board.

Powell lives in Fairfax Station, Virginia with his wife, Jane Knott Powell, and their sons, Jeffrey and Bryan.

Accession Number

A2006.010

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/2/2006

Last Name

Powell

Maker Category
Middle Name

K.

Schools

Bel Air Elementary School

George M. Hampton Middle School

Lake Braddock Secondary

The College of William & Mary

Georgetown University

First Name

Michael

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

POW07

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/23/1963

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chocolate

Short Description

Telecommunications lawyer and federal government appointee The Honorable Michael Powell (1963 - ) is the former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Employment

The M.K. Powell Group

Federal Communications Commission

Department of Justice

O'Melveny & Myers

U.S. Army

Arnold & Porter

Williams & Connolly

U.S. Court of Appeals

Favorite Color

Purple

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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360536">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Michael Powell's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360537">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360538">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360539">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360540">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his father's childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360541">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell talks about his grandparents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360542">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360543">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers his childhood in Dale City, Virginia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360544">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his childhood personality and interests</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360545">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360546">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls Bel Air Elementary School in Dale City, Virginia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360547">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell talks about his sisters</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360548">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his upbringing in a military family, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360549">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his upbringing in a military family, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360550">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls moving frequently as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360551">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers when his father became a general</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360552">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his decision to leave his Boy Scout troop</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360553">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his gymnastic career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360554">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his experience at Lake Braddock Secondary School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360555">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his high school activities and mentors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360556">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers political events of the 1970s and 1980s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360557">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls deciding to attend College of William & Mary</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360558">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers how he met his wife</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360559">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell explains how the College of William & Mary influenced him</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360560">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his college graduation and U.S. Army training</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360561">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers his accident on the German Autobahn</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360562">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360563">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers his year spent in recovery</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360564">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his orthopedic rehabilitation and wedding</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360565">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his work in The Pentagon</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360566">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers attending Georgetown University Law Center</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360567">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes how he became a law clerk to Harry T. Edwards</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360568">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers the case of Boodoo v. Cary, 1994</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360569">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his role as a law clerk</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360570">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Michael Powell talks about his mentor, Harry T. Edwards</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/360571">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - The Honorable Michael Powell remembers meeting Thurgood Marshall</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333331">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon the career of Thurgood Marshall</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333332">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell explains his interest in communications and antitrust law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333333">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his role in the U.S. Department of Justice, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333334">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his role in the U.S. Department of Justice, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333335">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust cases</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333336">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his appointment to the Federal Communications Commission</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333337">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his early work at the Federal Communications Commission, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333338">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his early work at the Federal Communications Commission, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333339">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell recalls his appointment as Federal Communications Commission chairman</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333340">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his leadership of the FCC</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333341">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell talks about the thirty-five percent rule, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333342">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes public regard for federal regulation in the early 2000s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333343">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes the 35 percent rule, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333344">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes how Congress modified the thirty-five percent rule</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333345">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his FCC University staff training program</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333346">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon changes in broadcast media</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333347">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon rapidly advancing communications technology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333348">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon the impact of new technologies</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333349">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Michael Powell shares his concerns about the proliferation of choice in media</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333350">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon his political career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333351">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon his father's political stance</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333352">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon his political ideology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333111">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon the impact of race in his profession</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333112">Tape: 8 Story: 2 - The Honorable Michael Powell describes his work with young African American attorneys</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/333113">Tape: 8 Story: 3 - The Honorable Michael Powell reflects upon his legacy</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

3$7

DATitle
The Honorable Michael Powell describes his mother's family background
The Honorable Michael Powell remembers the case of Boodoo v. Cary, 1994
Transcript
I want you to tell me about your mother [HistoryMaker Alma Powell] and what you know about her background and her growing up?$$Wow. My mother, to me, is an extraordinarily special person for reasons I think most people may not immediately grasp. You know, when you grow up the son of a military man [HistoryMaker General Colin L. Powell], who goes to war two and three times in your lifetime, there are these huge periods, year-long periods, where you never see your father. And those are formative moments of your childhood. And your mother is your everything. And my mother taught me how to throw a baseball. My mother was at certain events. And so she's always considered this, this anchor point in our lives, and when you sort of never know what might happen in the next military conflict or excursion, you know, she's, she's sort of that part you almost look to, to be permanent. So she's really, really special to me in the way that only a military child might appreciate. I also think she's the finishing school in our upbringing as children, meaning, I--you know, whenever somebody says, well, if you had one word for your mother, I would say grace. And I think it's a word rarely used today when people think about people. But I think she's a woman of grace who sort of has a, a quiet elegance about her and a, and a certain calm serenity, and a sort of stability in a storm that I really, really admire. And, you know, she's dedicated her life as, you know, being the other half of my father's world, but I don't think he'd have a world without her because I think she contributes in an incredibly significant way these attributes that keep things balanced and stable and egos in check and humility appropriately persevered. So that's really important to me. I also think in some ways we had really two really interesting family traditions. And my father saw it as the kind of immigrant story, you know. It's the, it's the Jamaicans that come from another country, who come to New York [New York] searching for a better life. And his world derives principally from that experience. My mother's in some way is my connection to the African American experience in the United States. Her, her lineage goes to Birmingham, Alabama. I mean I'm born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, you know, where--while my father's in Vietnam, where three months after I'm born, you know, the 16th Street Baptist Church [Birmingham, Alabama] blows up while we're in church three blocks away. And we used to go every summer to Birmingham. And my grandfather [Robert Johnson] was the principal of the only black high school [A.H. Parker High School] at the time in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother [Mildred Bell Johnson] was a pioneer for black girls in Birmingham. So a lot of my experiences with civil rights and race and the American experience that is so popularly understood by people, really comes through her connection to me. So that's really special too because there's certain things I derive only from, from her upbringing, her experiences.$$Now, do you remember any of her stories about growing up? Did she tell, talk about that?$$You know, not as much as I wish she did, which I think is kind of a (laughter) attribute of that generation. I would encourage them to do so more. I think as she's gotten older, and we've gotten older, we hear a little bit more of them. I remember very clearly 'cause I'd gone with my cousin, my mother's niece. We got to go to see the day view of Spike Lee's '4 Little Girls' documentary about the Baptist church bombing. And suddenly connections started surfacing that somehow I had not made. One, the sudden realization, wait a minute, we were there. Two, that one of the little girls' fathers was a famous photographer in Birmingham, and all of our pictures have his name on 'em. And I suddenly remembered the name on the little corners of every family photo I've ever seen. I remember coming home, saying, you know, what do you know about this? Where were you? She goes, well, we were there. And all of a sudden, all these things I had no idea that--how close her connection was. She knew every one of the little girls. She knew their families. She was--we were downtown when this happened, her and I, me as an infant, trying to get out of town just after this has happened. I said, what--where did all this come from? But I think that her generation, or at least her view--and maybe this is part of the military experience too, was to protect you and to keep your life happy and joyful and unencumbered. And I think sometimes that gets taken to the point of not sharing experiences that have pain laced in them. And we were always moving. So, you know, there wasn't this sort--what might, people--some people might call a tradition. You know, we, we were a very, you know, pick up and go kind of family; you're here today, gone tomorrow. So there wasn't as much of that kind of lineage or permanence or a location you thought of a home. And I think that undermined the storytelling a little bit. And my father's side is very gregarious about storytelling, very, very Jamaican, very--big parties when you're in New York or every relative you've ever heard of. And, you know, they sort of were the dominant part of the storytelling. And her family's smaller and you had less inter- you know, fewer points of interaction. But I think most of that's been corrected. I mean she's, she's told me a lot now. I'm sure there's a lot more I could learn.$I remember one day we had a case--I won't be any more lengthy about this, but it was a really weird, boring case normally. It was like a bus accident case which almost never comes to a court of appeals. Because it was D.C. [Washington, D.C.], and D.C. is not a state, these things come to the federal system. And a woman had lost a relative when the metro bus hit her, hit the car, and the lower judge had--the jury found for her, but then the judge overturned it because he said the evidence didn't support the--so this should have--the appellate courts hate these kinds of cases, you know. They're routine. What do we need to be bothered with this for? I kept reading it, and it bothered me a lot. It bothered me a lot, and the more I read it, I thought, the judge has misunderstood something 'cause there was an expert who was Korean, didn't speak good English, and I kept reading. And I said, I don't think he's--the judge thought that they had conceded stuff that I didn't think he had. So I went to the judge [Harry T. Edwards], and I said, "You know, judge, I hate to tell you this, but I think we should overturn this thing. I think they're wrong." He goes, "Oh, come on." And I, I said, "No, I really do." And I showed what I'd done. And he said, he said, "Well, I don't care much about it so if that's what you want to--you know, if that's what you want to argue, fine. Write it up," and--this is before the oral argument, I wrote my, what we call bench memos, these big things. And I said we should find for the woman. So we go have the oral argument. The case gets argued. Judges always go vote immediately, so he comes back after the voting, goes, "Well, you lost, you know, they, they, they're not buying. So, you know, I, what do I care, I'm just gonna vote with them, so it'll be three to zero. And Judge Williams [ph.] or whoever is gonna write the opinion." I said, ah, I went back to my--and it bugged me. It just kept bugging me. And so I kept looking at the record, and they were measuring skid marks. So I started doing the math like, if the skid marks--the bus had to be going this fast. I just couldn't stop thinking this woman was right. So I kind of went back to him, and I said, "I have to take it--I got to argue with you about this." I said, "Look," and I with--and he said, "Well, all right. We'll dissent, all right. Write the opinion. I'll tell the court we're dissenting. And I'll vote the way you want me to vote." So I think all right, that's cool. So I go to write the opinion. It was hard, you know, I put math in it and everything, and I remember I went into this office. And I was in my office--we, you know, 'cause it was a quiet chamber and I had my door closed. And I heard his door open--I'll never forget this day. And he goes--'cause the case had a funny name. It was Stella V. Boodoo [Stella V. Boodoo et al. v. Jerome Cary Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 1994], Stella versus Boodoo (laughter), we used to always laugh. And I heard this door open, and he'd been pretty dour, 'cause this was in the first three months. He said, "Stella V. Boodoo. Well, damn if Mike Powell [HistoryMaker Michael Powell] might not be a lawyer after all." And he was just so excited about the opinion and thought how well it--he goes, "He knocked this out of the park. Well, well, well, look who we have here." And I opened my door, and he was just like, "Well, you nailed that one." And he just walked back in his office. And I just--it was the warm--it was like, oh, my God.$$Was it because of what you had written?$$Yeah, he read it, he said, "Oh, you got it, you got it nailed." So we circulated the opinion. And he said, he came into me, he--we had a rule. You were not allowed to talk to other chambers about opinions. He wanted everybody to do their--he goes, "You go try to convince the other clerks this is right." So I talked to them, and they--he recirculated the opinion. Long story, short, we persuaded them, and we flipped the whole thing. So it went from three to two against this woman to three to two for her and we overturned the court. You know, and this was a poor woman had gotten--her husband was killed in the--I was just--there was just a sense of justice that we'd gotten right finally, and that just transformed me forever. And then he became--at that, from that moment on, we were mentor and mentee for the rest of my life. He's my dearest friend in the world and my wife's [Jane Knott Powell] dearest friend. Whenever we need a good slapping around, you call him up, and--$$That's a pretty amazing story. Now talk about (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, a great teacher.