Adam Clayton Powell

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Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr.

Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr., 1908–72, American politician and clergyman, b. New Haven, Conn. In 1937 he became pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, and he soon became known as a militant black leader. He was elected to the city council of New York in 1941, and was elected for the first time to the U.S. Congress in 1945. Although a Democrat, he campaigned for President Eisenhower in 1956. As chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor after 1960, he acquired a reputation for flamboyance and disregard of convention. In Mar., 1967, he was excluded by the House of Representatives, which had accused him of misuse of House funds, contempt of New York court orders concerning a 1963 libel judgment against him, and conduct unbecoming a member. He was overwhelmingly reelected in a special election in 1967 and again in 1968. He was seated in the 1969 Congress but fined $25,000 and deprived of his seniority. In June, 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his exclusion from the House had been unconstitutional. Powell was defeated for reelection in 1970.


See his autobiography (1971); study by A. Jacobs (1973).

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Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr.

(1908–72) U.S. representative, minister; born in New Haven, Conn. After earning a Masters of Social Work degree from Columbia University, he ran social and welfare programs at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, following his father as minister in 1931. Elected to New York's City Council in 1941, the flamboyant Powell went to the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem.; 1945–69) where he fought to outlaw Jim Crow laws. Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor (1960–67), he sponsored 48 major pieces of legislation including the Minimum Wage and National Defense Education Bills. However, his absentee rate and eight-year legal battle with a Harlem woman who sued him for libel lost him support in Congress. When he moved to Bimini in 1966 to escape payment, the House voted to exclude him from Congress. After paying libel charges, he returned in 1969, vindicated by a Supreme Court decision that his exclusion had been invalid; however, he was defeated in 1970 by Charles Rangel.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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