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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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"Since Kunu-ri," Rangel says, "I have never, never had a bad day."
After an honorable discharge from the Army, Rangel returned home a changed man. He decided to finish high school, completing two years of studies in only one year. He earned his G.E.D. in 1953, and went on to attend the New York University School of Commerce. There he used his military benefits to finance a four-year degree, which he earned in three years, while also making the dean's list.
Rangel received his bachelor's degree in 1957. That same year, he earned a full ride to St. John's University School of Law. In addition to his course load at St. John's, Rangel worked a series of odd jobs to earn extra money. He also stayed highly involved at school, co-founding the St. John's Criminal Law Institute and interning for New York county District Attorney Frank Hogan. He obtained a Juris Doctor from St. John's in 1960.
In the year following graduation, Rangel briefly entered private practice at Weaver, Evans & Wingate. By 1961, Rangel had made a name for himself as the lawyer who stood up for black civil rights activists. That year, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appointed Rangel as the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He served in the position until 1962, when he decided that he was more interested in a life in politics instead of in the courtroom.
With the support of famous African-American political leader, J. Ray Jones, Rangel ran for Democractic party district leader in 1963. But while he lost that seat to State Assemblyman, Lloyd Dickens, Rangel gained the support of the man who would become his political mentor: New York State Assemblyman Percy Sutton. Sutton, an accomplished lawyer and civil rights leader, took Rangel under his wing. In 1966, after Sutton was named Manhattan Borough President, Rangel was elected to New York State Assembly as the Central Harlem representative. In 1968, he was re-elected for another term.
In 1970, Rangel ran for the U.S. House of Representatives against incumbent Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in the Democratic primary. Rangel won the November 1970 general election with 88 percent of the vote. The newly elected representative immediately set to work, helping to found the 13-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1971.
The CBC's goal, to fight for the equality of persons of African descent, has since expanded to include the closing of achievement and opportunity gaps in education, assuring quality health care for every American, focusing on employment and economic security, ensuring justice for all, retirement security for all Americans, and increasing equity in foreign policy. The group has also grown; its members now total more than 40 representatives.
In addition to his work on the CBC, Rangel had his eye on a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. However, Rangel's first assignment was a brief seat on the Science Committee, followed by service on the House Judiciary Committee, where Rangel began his fight against illicit narcotics traffic and drug addiction and participated in the impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.
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