Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: loomed as a giant in the Black community of Harlem, not only as the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, but also as a community activist and the first African-American to represent New York in the United States House of Representatives. He became prominent in political activism, fighting for employment opportunities and fair housing. He became the Chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Employment, mounting pressure on local businesses to hire Blacks on all levels of employment. He led very noteworthy protests including a “Shop Only Where You Can Work” boycott of all of stores along 125th, shutting most of them down, thereby forcing them to hire Black workers. During the World’s Fair of 1939, his protesters picketed in front of the Fair’s headquarters at the Empire State Building, which resulted in a 250% increase in Black hiring. Two years later, he led the bus boycott of the New York Transit authority, leading to 200 additional jobs for Black constituents. His activism on the part of the community led him to run for the New York City Council and he was elected in 1941, the first Black to serve on the Council.
Three years later he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. He ran on a campaign of fighting for the civil rights of Blacks, including seeking a ban on obstacles for voting rights (such as poll taxes), fair employment opportunities and a ban on lynching. Running as a Democrat, he was elected in 1944, representing the 22nd Congressional district (which included Harlem) and was the first Black Congressman from the state of New York. He did not try to ease his way in quietly and instead directly addressed issues that affected his constituents. With Jim Crow being the law of the land in the south and almost all of the southern Congressmen being segregationists, there had been no one willing to stand on the House floor and raise issues that affected Blacks throughout the nation. Powell would be the man to do so.
Powell did not make many friends, especially among the southern Congressmen, but he stood up and addressed