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Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
This date marks the 1908 birth of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a Black minister, publisher, businessman, and politician.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Powell moved to New York City, where his father, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., ministered at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. After attending public schools, he graduated from Colgate University and received his M. A. in religious education from Columbia University.
During the Depression, while handling business affairs at his father’s church, Powell Jr. established himself as a charismatic and successful civil rights leader. He organized mass meetings, rent strikes, and public campaigns that forced restaurants, stores, bus lines, utilities, telephone companies, the Harlem hospital, and the 1939 Worlds Fair to hire or begin promoting Black employees. From 1936 to 1944, he published The People's Voice Newspaper and served the New York State Office of Price Administration (OPA) and the Manhattan Civilian Defense.
He was elected to Congress in 1945, serving the office of the Indian Affairs, the Invalid Pensions, and the Labor Committees. Soon after he arrived in Washington, D.C., he challenged the informal regulations forbidding Black representatives from using Capitol facilities reserved for members only. In the early 1950s, he and Hazel Scott were married; they divorced in 1956.
On the house floor, he clashed immediately with one of the chamber's most notorious segregationists, John E. Rankin of Mississippi. Powell attached an anti-discrimination clause to many pieces of legislation that the rider became known as the Powell Amendment. In 1955, he attended the landmark Bandung Conference of African and Asian nations, returning to urge the Eisenhower administration to pay attention to the emerging third world.
The early 1960s were productive years for his congressional career. The committee approved over 50 measures authorizing federal programs for areas from minimum wage increases and education and training for the deaf to student loans and school lunches.
Because of his many political enemies and a slander judgment against him, the House Democratic Caucus stripped Powell of his committee chairmanship in 1967. It would not seat him until the completion of an investigation by the Judiciary Committee. A ruling two years later in his favor returned him to his seat in the Ninetieth Congress, but without his seniority. Powell Jr. had extraordinary local support from Harlem residents to the end of his controversial career.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. unsuccessfully sought re-nomination in 1970, then retired as a minister and died in 1972.
Black Heroes of The Twentieth Century
Edited by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1998 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI