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Congressman Charles Rangel has served New York's Harlem district since 1971. He was censured by his peers for ethics violations in 2010.
Political Activism in Harlem (2:14)
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 into a troubled family on June 11, 1930, Charles Rangel showed his heroic side during the Korean war, winning several medals for bravery. Back at home, he became a lawyer and civil rights activist before winning a seat in the House of Representatives
Politician Charles Bernard Rangel was born on June 11, 1930, in New York City. Rangel's mother, Blanche Mary Wharton, was only 16 years old when she met Ralph Rangel, a Puerto Rican immigrant who was working as a handyman for Wharton's family. The couple eloped and, three years later, Charles' eldest brother, Ralph, was born. Charles was born seven years later, but by then his eldest brother had been taken in by relatives and was rarely around. Rangel's sister, Frances, who was born three years later, would also come to be raised by relatives.
Rangel's early family life was tumultuous; his father rarely held a job, and physically abused Charles' mother. "My father was absolutely no good," Rangel says. "In my earliest memory of him...my father was hitting my mother on the steps of some apartment-type building." Rangel's father left the family when Charles was 6 years old.
Charles' relationship with his mother was far different, however—he describes most of his early life as "always around her apron strings." Unlike his siblings, Rangel often followed his mother around during her transient lifestyle. He traveled with her to jobs as a seamstress and maid, and moved with her as she found new romantic interests.
Rangel was eventually sent to live with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx. He credits his relatives with giving him good study habits and structure. "I had enough going for me, in terms of confidence and good work habits, that studying really was no big deal," Rangel says.
The return to his mother's home, however, pushed the young man out of the house at an early age. "I was torn between life tied to my mother and being on my own," Rangel explains. "I knew I had to get out." Although his performance in grade school and at DeWitt Clinton High School was excellent, he was often truant during this time, and was occasionally driven home by the police for his antics. He dropped out of school in 1947 to sell shoes, and drifted aimlessly until he enlisted in the U.S. Army a year later.
Rangel was stationed in Korea during the Korean War, and it was in the military that his talents truly shone. As a soldier, he was a member of the all-black 503rd Field Artillery Battalion in the 2nd Infantry Division. Though only a private first class, he was often recognized for his strong sense of leadership.
This ability was put to the test in November of 1950, during the Battle of Kunu-ri. Despite shrapnel wounds, Rangel led 40 of his comrades for three days behind enemy lines rather than surrender. He was later recognized for his bravery with the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and three battle stars.
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