Interview with Adam Clayton Powell
Project: Who Speaks For The Negro? The Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project
Interview SummaryThis interview is available in transcript only.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) was a prominent African American politician, pastor, and Civil Rights leader. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1931 Powell received his Master's degree in religious education from Columbia University. In 1937, Powell assumed the leadership of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem from his father and used his leadership position to crusade for jobs and housing for the poor. Through his position as chairman for the Coordinating Committee for Employment, Powell organized many public campaigns forcing various public and private institutions to hire African American employees. In 1941, Powell became the first African American to be elected to the New York City Council. In 1944, he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served eleven successive terms, and was involved in the passage of many social legislative bills including minimum wage and antipoverty acts. In 1961, Powell became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. After criticism of his personal behavior and management of committee funds led to his loss of the chairmanship in 1967, Powell sued in Powell vs. McCormack to retain his seat in the House. Although in 1969 the Supreme Court ruled he would regain his seat in the House, Powell lost his seniority and in 1970 was defeated in the Democratic primary by Charles Rangel.
In this interview, Powell discusses the meaning of the Civil Rights movement as a mass movement and the role of nonviolence in stopping racism. He describes the responsibility of individual black men and women in the Civil Rights movement and briefly discusses his relationship with ACT (a Civil Rights organization). Powell provides his opinions on the discrepancies between the employment opportunities of black and white people and states that although he is against quotas, he does agree with the need for preferential hiring of blacks in the workforce. He also discusses his belief that African Americans fulfill their need to be visible in society through their purchases of status symbols such as large cars. Powell further discusses leadership within the Civil Rights movement, questioning White leadership within organizations such as the NAACP and calling for more African American leadership. He observes that the African American leadership is slowly moving out of the African American communities and states that African American leadership needs to remain within the community that needs those resources.
Interview Partial Date
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Interview UsageInterviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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