ADAM CLAYTON POWELL, JR
Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., chair¬ man of the House Education and Labor Committee from 1961 to 1967, was bom in New Haven, Connecticut, but raised in Harlem, where his father was the minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church. He was edu¬ cated at City College ofNew York for two years, and at Colgate University, from which he graduated with honors.
Expecting to go on to Harvard Medical School, Pow¬ ell was surprised to receive a call to the ministry. Hearing a voice ask who would succeed his father as minister of the biggest church in Harlem, Powell changed his direction and entered Teacher’s College of Columbia University.
In 1938, when he was 30 years old, Rev. Powell succeeded his father and began to use the church as a tool for social engineer¬ ing. Gathering support for boycotts of busi¬ nesses that wouldn’t hire African-Ameri¬ cans, Powell founded the Coordi¬ nating Committee for Employment.
The committee coined the famous phrase, “Don’t buy where you can’t work,” helping the African-Ameri¬ can community to think of itself as an economic block that could wield power with its choices in the mar¬ ketplace.
In 1941, after he’d proved him¬ self a brilliant organizer, Powell was elected to the City Council of New York. In 1944, with the sup¬ port of such powerful men as A.Philip Randolph (see no. 48), Pow¬ ell was named Harlem’s first African-American congressman.
He was elected to chair the pow¬ erful House Education and Labor Committee in 1961, and helped pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act in the same year, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Praised by
President Lyndon B. Johnson for passing the Anti-Poverty Act, the Minimum Wage Act, the Vocational Education Act and the National Defense Education Act, chairman Powell was shocked when, in 1967, he was expelled from the House of Representa¬ tives. Founded on dubious accusations of “misuse of funds,” his dismissal was a shock that went through the whole nation, ending in massive protests.
In 1967, he was reelected to his seat by his loyal supporters in Harlem, and took his case to the courts. In 1969, Congress reversed its decision. Powell was returned to his seat, fined $25,000 and stripped of his position. The courts upheld that Congress had acted outside its jurisdiction.
Powell was defeated in 1970, and died in 1972, described by Gil Noble as “…a fight¬ er. If he did play, he worked harder than he played. Most of all, he was a fighter.”