Powell Barnett came to Seattle in 1906, because he thought the city offered greater opportunities. He began working for Barary Asphalt Paving Company as sub-foreman putting in new streetcar lines. Later he worked for the General Engineering Construction Company, which built the Waldorf Hotel at 7th Avenue and Pike Street and the Perry Hotel on 9th Avenue and Madison Street. He served as a clerk for State Senator Frank Connor and retired at 71 as a maintenance man at the King County Courthouse.
A man of many interests and great energy, much of which was directed toward improving race relations and civic unity, Powell Barnett became a leader in the community. He organized the Leschi Improvement Council and became its first president in 1967, led in organizing the East Madison YMCA, served as chairman of its board, and chaired a committee that revised the Seattle Urban League, thus saving its membership in the Community Chest.
A firm believer in racial integration, he was instrumental in uniting blacks and whites in the YMCA and the USO. He was a sousaphone player and the first black person to become a member of the once all-white Musicians Union, Local 76. He was a star baseball player and organized a semi-pro baseball Umpires Association in Seattle, serving as executive secretary from 1944 until 1961 and securing affiliation with the National Association of Umpires.
For his outstanding civic contributions, Powell Barnett received awards from the King County Council on Aging, Jackson Street Community Council, Seattle Urban League, the Mayor and City Council, and others.
In 1969, the 4.4-acre park on Martin Luther King Jr. Way between East Jefferson and East Alder Streets was named for Powell Barnett.
Powell Barnett died on March 16, 1971, having lived most of his life in the Leschi Community. He is buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.