Skip to comments.Before Rev. King, There was Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Posted on 11/29/2008 1:03:38 PM PST by kathsua
November 29 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of the black preacher known as "Mr. Civil Rights". No, I'm not talking about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., although this man was named after his preacher father, also.
Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr, was conducting civil rights demonstrations when Dr. King was still a child in the 30's. As assistant pastor at his father's Abyssinian Baptist Church he was in charge of providing food and clothing to those who couldn't afford them, on one occasion he even gave the shoes he was wearing to a man who couldn't find his size in the used clothing.
When he succeeded his father in 1935 it was the largest Protestant congregation in America. The church itself began as a protest against the segregated seating at New York City's First Baptist Church in 1808. A century later the church would call Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., to be its pastor.
Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., recognized that providing food and clothing wasn't the best way to help people, so he began an effort to get jobs for blacks. His Coordinating Committee for Employment used mass protests such as his "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaign to persuade various businesses, including Harlem Hospital, to hire more blacks. In 1941 he used a bus boycott to force the hiring of 200 more blacks by the transit authority. In 1941 he integrated the New York City City Council when he was elected as its first black member.
In 1944, he became the first northern black from a state other than Illinois to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., informed Congress: "I'm the first bad Negro they've had in Congress." The other black Representative, William Dawson of Chicago, had avoided challenging the status quo.
Powell promptly integrated the House dining room and barber shop. He persuaded other members of Congress to stop using the n- word on the floor of Congress. He pushed for an end to segregation in the military and the District of Columbia and invented the "Powell Amendment" which, if successfully attached to legislation, prohibited racial discrimination in the use of federal funds. Many years later a similar provision was adopted to require equal treatment for women.
Later he played a major role in getting President John Kennedy's New Frontier and President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society legislation passed.
Unfortunately, late in his career he succumbed to the temptations to misuse power and was eventually expelled from Congress for corrupt activities. Charles Rangel subsequently replaced him. Powell died on April 4, 1972.
The focus on Dr. Martin Luther King's contributions has obscured the fact that King didn't start the fight to end segregation, he merely carried that fight to the south where the resistance was greatest.
Rep. Adam Clayton Powell didn't start the fight either, but he escalated it. As a preacher he demonstrated that public protests and boycotts could change the situation. As a member of Congress he began the difficult process of changing government racial policies. Perhaps the military would have been integrated without his efforts, but his support certainly helped. He forced Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower to act against racial discrimination. Powell, a Democrat, later rewarded Eisenhower by endorsing him in the 1956 presidential election.
The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education didn't happen in a vacuum. Charles Sumner had argued before the Massachusetts high court that "separate but equal" was impossible a century earlier in the Roberts case which had served as a precedent for the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. Society had changed, at least outside the south.
Integration was the coming thing. The nation's principle government organization, the military, had been integrated as had its most popular sport, baseball. The justices might have been aware of Dwight Eisenhower's role in eliminating segregated theaters and other facilities on military bases and eliminating segregated facilities in the District of Columbia even though Eisenhower had acted quietly.
Just read that the RATS are stopping the investigation into corrupt Charlie Rangel’s activities now that the RATS are in power. Powell was corrupt and replaced by a another corrupt individual. Plus, who could ever forget that other corrupted politician that hid his money in the freezer.
More aptly, “Before Charles Rangel, there was Adam Clayton Powell.”
Powell would face allegations that he misappropriated committee funds; an accusation that took flight due to his many absences from Congress as he sought refuge at a vacation home on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. Powell was also hit with a court judgment for slander in a case involving a Harlem woman who he described as a bag lady, someone who doles out cash for political favors. Though the woman was known to be what Powell described, he lost the battle in court and then refused to pay the judgment. Rather than be served a contempt of court notice for his failure to appear, Congressman Powell set up camp on Bimini and returned to his district only on Sunday when court officers could not serve him papers.
Yep, in every possible way.
Pelosi will keep her criminals protected as she tries to dump republicans in her most ethical congress ever.
adam clayton powell
Ultimately, Powell used up his political currency. Members of the House, happy to find a reason to silence him, expelled him for pocketing congressional employment paychecks to his wife, and for taking junkets abroad with female staffers. The fighter in him took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. He won back his seat. Even then, he was docked $25,000 to repay the illegal kickback. But the people of Harlem grew tired of Powell's unbelievable record of roll call absences and endless litigations. In 1970, they finally voted him out. Two years later, he died of prostate cancer at the age of 63.
In January 1967, following allegations that Powell had misappropriated Committee funds for his personal use and other corruption allegations, the House Democratic Caucus stripped Powell of his committee chairmanship. The full House refused to seat him until completion of an investigation by the Judiciary Committee. In March the House voted 307 to 116 to exclude him. Powell won the special election in April to fill the vacancy caused by his exclusion, but did not take his seat.
By the mid-1960s Powell was being increasingly criticized for mismanagement of the committee budget, taking trips abroad at public expense, including travel to his retreat on the Bahamian isle of Bimini, and missing sittings of his committee. He was also under fire in his district, where his refusal to pay a slander judgment made him subject to arrest. He spent increasing amounts of time in Florida and displayed his wealth more than was wise for a Congressman representing a poor district. In June 1970 he was defeated in the Democratic primary by Charles B. Rangel , who has represented the area ever since. Powell failed to get on the ballot for the November election as an independent. He resigned as minister at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and moved to Bimini.
Thanks. I’m old enough to remember most of that, unfortunately.
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