- NAME: Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, U.S. Representative, Pastor
- BIRTH DATE: November 29, 1908
- DEATH DATE: April 04, 1972
- EDUCATION: Colgate University, Columbia University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: New Haven, D.C.
- PLACE OF DEATH: Miami, Florida
- Full Name: Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
- AKA: Adam Clayton Powell
- AKA: Adam Powell
Best Known For
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was a 20th century clergyman and U.S. representative who was a major force in establishing civil rights for African Americans.
Political Activism in Harlem (2:14)
Artist Branly Cadet created the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. that stands on the corner of 125th street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Manhattan.
Opened in 1913, the Hotel Theresa was considered the "Waldorf Astoria of Harlem" welcoming famous African-Americans, such as Joe Louis and Lena Horne, who were turned away from "whites only" hotels.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, discusses famous figures who contributed to the history of political activism in Harlem.
Watch a short video about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how this advocate for peace and equality inherited his name from his father.
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Born on November 29, 1908, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. succeeded his father, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., to become minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church, and worked as a community activist for Harlem. Powell was elected to the House of Representatives in the mid-1940s. He became a champion civil rights reformer, also making great strides in education and labor. He faced controversy for some of his behavior and commentary. Powell died in Florida in 1972.
"I, Adam Powell, may belong to a group of people that some others may think are inferior, but I belong to a group of people that God, omniscient, omnipresent God, God of all power says 'You are my children, and you're the same as anyone else!'"
"As I walk the streets of the Harlems of the world, the black Harlems and the white Harlems, people are depressed. They are frustrated. They are downtrodden. They see no hope. They see no tomorrow. And I say to them always, keep the faith baby."
"Keep the faith, baby; spread it gently and walk together, children."
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was born on November 29, 1908, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Mattie Fletcher Schaffer and Adam Clayton Powell Sr. The family, which included daughter Blanche, moved to New York City when the senior Powell took on a clergy position at Abyssinian Baptist Church, a historical African-American institution that would eventually move to Harlem. The junior Powell went on to attend City College before transferring to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, where he graduated in 1930. Two years later (1932), he earned a master's degree in religious education from Columbia University, and then furthered his divinity studies at Shaw University.
During the 1930s, Powell worked as an assistant minister and business manager at Abyssinian—taking over his father's position as pastor in 1937—and became a staunch community activist for Harlem residents.
Powell married Isabel Washington in 1933, and the couple later divorced. Powell would remarry and divorce two more times over the following decades.
Powell later decided to enter local politics and, in 1941, won a seat to the New York City Council, becoming the first African American elected to the position. A few years later, Powell made a successful run for Congress; he took a Democratic seat in the House of Representatives in 1945, becoming the first African American hailing from New York to be elected to the House. The outspoken, electrifying leader and orator would go on to serve 12 terms as a U.S. representative.
During his congressional service, Powell served on a number of committees and continued to agitate for African-American human rights, calling for an end to lynching in the South and Jim Crow laws. He angered Southern segregationists, including those within his own party, by integrating congressional restaurants, recreational facilities and press stations; critiquing anti-Semitism; and advocating for independence for African and Asian nations. In 1956, Powell went against party lines to support Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential campaign, though he later critiqued Eisenhower for his conservatism on civil rights issues.
In 1961, Powell became chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor. The special group was able to create an unprecedented array of legislative reforms, including a minimum-wage increase, educational resources for the deaf, funding for student loans, library aid, work-hour regulations and job training.
Still, Powell's personal life and professional tactics stirred up controversy.
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