We all know about Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. Seldom do we hear of other black leaders who played a significant part in bettering the lives of African Americans.
“Keep the Faith, Baby” examines the life and accomplishments of the controversial congressman and minister Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
This Showtime/Paramount motion picture takes place in the early 1940s. It has been shown at historically black colleges/universities like Howard, Spelman and most recently Florida A&M. It introduces students to a black leader who would otherwise go unnoticed.
“There’s not much known about my father. This movie is to introduce the world to a great man left out of history books,” said Adam Clayton Powell III.
The movie starts off with an older Powell (played by Harry Lennix) talking to Joe Schiller (played by Russell Hornsby), a reporter interested in his life story. Powell is portrayed as a powerful leader whose tactics angered many people. He engaged in “radical” civil rights activities, such as rent strikes and bus boycotts.
“He was a liberal democrat,” the younger Powell said.
In 1941, Powell wins a seat on the City Council in New York. Soon after, he divorces his first wife and marries Hazel Scott (played by Vanessa Williams), a jazz diva.
In the movie, Powell toyed with a lot of people. On one occasion, while at an event to honor black labor organizer, A. Philip Randolph (played by Rufus Crawford), Powell stole the show with a speech announcing his campaign to run for Congress. On Jan. 3, 1945 Powell becomes the second African-American to be elected into Congress.
“He was the Congressman for black America and for the black Americans in the armed forces,” the younger Powell said.
During his term, Powell encounters racism and segregation in Congress and confronts these issues every chance he got.
A hilarious scene in the movie involves Congressman John Rankin (played by Rodger Barton). Rankin was a racist Dixiecrat from Mississippi who refused to sit next to Powell in the Congressional Chamber. Powell decides to play musical chairs with Rankin, following him from seat to seat until Rankin finally storms out of the session.
Powell, also know as “Mr. Civil Rights,” addressed the issues of the black community despite the hatred he received from others in congress. After he became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, he passed an unprecedented amount of bills like the minimum wage law, equal work for equal pay, student loans and financial aid, federal assistance to public libraries and the National Endowment of the Arts. He also integrated the Congressional cafeteria.
“I did not know he held the record for most bills passed,” said Frank Khalifa, 21, a junior newspaper journalism student from Minneapolis.
The movie depicts Powell as being very outspoken and determined to change discriminatory policies. He even confronts President Harry Truman, demanding that any tax-payer-supported entity must not discriminate against individuals. Thus, the Powell Amendment was attached to numerous bills in Congress.
“We were able to see an accurate betrayal of an African-American leader,” said Malcolm Glover, 19, a freshman broadcast journalism student from Bowie, Md.
Powell acquired a lot of enemies during his term. They called him names like “unscrupulous, selfish, depraved, eccentric and even the devil.” They even conspired to have him removed from office, and in 1967 House members denied Powell his seat in Congress.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. stood with the best of them when it came to fighting for black rights.
A lot of people don’t even know who this man was or what he did for us. “Keep the Faith Baby” introduces to the world a man who had a lasting effect on the black community.
“As far as the future, the thing we’ve done is start a Web site: adamclaytonpowell.com,” Powell said. He said this way people can get to know a great man.