Powell was born in New Haven. His father, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. was a Baptist minister and headed the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. His paternal grandfather was white, as were several of his mother's ancestors. When he was six years old, he came down with a lung infection and his mother kept him away from the neighborhood kids. Gradually, Adams emerged from his mother’s shadow and learned some of life’s lessons. He was educated at public schools, the City College of New York and Colgate University. He received an MA degree in religious education from Columbia University in 1931.
During the Depression years, Powell, a handsome and charismatic figure, became a prominent civil rights leader in the Harlem area of Manhattan and developed a formidable public following in Harlem community through his crusades for jobs and housing. As chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Employment, he organized mass meetings, rent strikes and public campaigns, forcing companies and utilities, and the Harlem hospital to hire black workers. One evening in early 1933, five Harlem doctors called Powell. They were barred from practicing at Harlem Hospital because they were black. Powell formed a committee to deal with Harlem Hospital. The Board of Estimate agreed to investigate conditions at the hospital, and over the next few years the situation slowly improved. He got married to Isabel Washington that same year. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. also made businesses along 125th Street in Harlem, New York promise at least one-third of their salespeople would be black. Powell organized a picket line and the 1939 New York World's Fair at the Fair's executive offices in the Empire State Building; as a result, the number of black employees was increased from about 200 to 732. A bus boycott in 1940 led to the hiring of 200 black workers by the transit authority. When Negro pharmacists were failing to get hired, Powell led a fight in 1941 to have drugstores in Harlem hire them all. In 1937 he succeeded his father as pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church. In 1941 he was elected to the New York City Council as the city's first Black council representative with the aid of New York City's use of the Single Transferable Vote. He won an overwhelming number of the votes, winning 90 percent of the eligible votes. He received 65,736 votes, the third best total among the six successful council candidates. On January 1, 1942, Powell took oath of office and assumed a place on city council. In 1943, Powell found the City Council was not helping the Harlem community and in 1944, he ran for Congress and he won. In 1944 Powell was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, representing the 22nd congressional district, which included Harlem. He was the first black Congressman from New York, and the first from any Northern state other than Illinois. In June 4, 1946, Powell proposed an amendment to a bill providing federal funds for free lunches for school children. Powell’s amendment was passed. Powell Jr., orchestrated passage of the backbone of President John Kennedy's "New Freedom" legislation. He would also become instrumental in the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" social programs. Powell's committee passed a record number of bills for a single session. This record still remains unbroken. As one of the great modern legislators, Powell Jr. would steer some 50 bills through Congress.
Accomplishments of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. In 1937, as a minister, he used the pulpit to spur political action. Through marches to City Hall and Harlem Hospital, he protested discrimination in hiring and services. In 1941 Powell won a city council seat as an independent. He was sworn in to the New York City Council, 1942. He continued to challenge discrimination, particularly in New York's Public Schools. In 1945, during the Harry S. Truman Administration he became the second of two African American members then serving in the Congress. In 1945, during the Truman Administration, Powell denounced First Lady Bess Truman for her affiliation with the Daughter of the American Revolution, which then had racially discriminatory policies. During the Truman Administration, Powell ended segregation in congressional service facilities, campaigning to have African American journalists admitted to the press galleries, and challenging congress persons that used the word "nigger" on the House floor. In June 4, 1946, Powell proposed an amendment to a bill providing federal funds for free lunches for school children. Powell’s amendment was passed. Also, during the Truman Administration, Powell repeatedly tried to pass what became known as thePowell Amendment, which would have denied funding to institutions that practiced racial discrimination. In the 1956 president election, Adam Clayton Powell infuriated his party by influencing his supporters to support Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom he saw as mildly progressive on civil rights. In the 1960 presidential election, Adam Clayton Powell infuriated his party by influencing his supporters to support Democratic John F. Kennedy, whom he saw as strong progressive on civil rights. In 1960 during the Kennedy Administration, Powell became chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, the first time an African American chaired such a powerful committee. In 1962, during the Kennedy Administration, Powell was instrumental in passing the Minimum Wage Act of 1962. Adam Clayton Powell was highly instrumental in passing much of the progressive legislation enacted in the 1960s, including increases to the minimum wage, creation of Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and protection of civil rights. A version of the Powell Amendment, which would have denied funding to institution that practiced racial discrimination, was finally codified in the landmark Civil Right Act of 1964. Powell Jr., orchestrated passage of the backbone of President John Kennedy's "New Freedom" legislation. He would also become instrumental in the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" social programs. Powell's committee passed a record number of bills for a single session. This record still remains unbroken. As one of the great modern legislators, Powell Jr. would steer some 50 bills through Congress
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