Adam Clayton Powell Jr. merged his passions for politics and the church in a lifelong effort to advance the black agenda.Powell helped create a path in politics as one of the first black congressman. He was elected into the United States House of Representatives in 1945 and later became the chair for the Labor and Education committee in 1961.
Well known for his acts of upheaval, Powell’s long record of achievement began with his involvement at church.
Powell grew up in the Baptist church. By 1930 he had begun preaching trial sermons at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where his father, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., served as senior pastor. Powell had strong Christian beliefs and in later years he became the assistant pastor to his father.
Powell was influenced by the Garvey movement, the era of Black Nationalism, which later convinced him to change social order through the church. He viewed the church as the pivotal foundation for the development of the rights of black people.
“The Negroes’ church, itself should be the political, educational, economic and social capital of the Negro race,” he preached. During the 1930s, the years of the Harlem Renaissance, Powell protested against various issues in the Harlem community. He organized 6,000 people to march to city hall in order to create an interracial staff at the Harlem Hospital. Powell and the “marching blacks” also created a relief program at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. This program promoted public welfare for residents in the local community and later influenced the creation of the Department of Public Welfare. In 1937 Powell and the “marching blacks” developed the rent strike which forced landlords to create better living standards in Harlem ghettos.
While working in the labor and education committee Powell encouraged education that gave students knowledge of individuality. Individuality, according to Powell, emphasized living independently and understanding racial backgrounds. Powell also believed that students, specifically blacks, should be taught the ability to lead. He thought that black leadership would move “the black child toward self-sufficiency.”
Powell was also concerned with the education programs at historically black colleges and universities. He wanted to create programs similar to other major colleges and universities that focused on engineering, physics and aerodynamics.
Powell died in 1972 of prostate cancer, but his legacy is continued through his son Adam Clayton Powell IV.