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Vermont Airman Reflects on Heritage

  • Published
  • 158th Fighter Wing

SOUTH  BURLINGTON,  VT -- Rev. Joe Berry Powell was born into slavery in Edgecome County, North Carolina in 1853. More than 170 years later, his great-great-great grandson serves in the Vermont Air National Guard. 

“His earliest memories were of life on the plantation,” said Master Sgt. Juan J. Coleman, 158th Fighter Wing traffic management specialist. “He didn’t let his circumstances stop him.”

A twice-over widower, Rev. Powell had a deep love of agriculture and of God, according to Coleman. This devotion led Powell to found four churches in his lifetime. He pastored at one of those churches, Hart’s Chapel Baptist Church, for more than 45 years—more than half of his life.  

Toward the latter part of his life, Rev. Powell had a photograph taken. Coleman has a copy of that photograph and says that it is one of the only known images of his ancestor to exist. 

“Photography is so important,” said Coleman. “He was a good-looking and stoic man—I see other family members when I look at this photo.”

Although Coleman was discussing his great-great-great grandfather in a familial, historical context, he believes that his culture, and that the accomplishments of other African Americans and black Americans, should be taught all the time and not simply relegated to one month of the year.

“I believe that every month is Black History Month,” said Coleman. “Black History is American History.”