Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was a Baptist Pastor and an American politician, who represented Harlem, New York City, in the United States House of Representatives (1945–71). He was the 1st person from New York of African-American descent to be elected to Congress, and the 4th African American from the North to be elected in the Post-Reconstruction Era after Oscar Stanton De Priest. He became a powerful national politician of the Democratic Party, re-elected numerous times and serving as a national spokesman on civil rights and social issues. He also urged Presidents to support emerging nations in Africa and Asia as they gained Independence after Colonialism.
In 1961, after 16 years in the House, Powell became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, the most Powerful Position held by an African American in Congress. As Chairman, he supported the passage of important social legislation under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Following allegations of corruption, in 1967 Powell was excluded from his seat by Democratic Representatives-elect of the 90th Congress, but he was re-elected and regained the seat in a 1969 United States Supreme Court ruling in Powell v. McCormack. Powell Sr. had worked his way out of poverty and through Wayland Seminary, a historically black college, and postgraduate study at Yale University and Virginia Seminary. Powell Jr. attended Townsend Harris High School. He studied at City College of New York, then started at Colgate University in upstate as a freshman. Encouraged by his father to become a minister, Powell got more serious about his studies at Colgate; he earned his bachelor's degree in 1930. In 1931, he earned an M.A. in religious education from Columbia University. He became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity started by and for blacks. During the 1939 New York World's Fair, Powell organized a picket line at the Fair's offices in the Empire State Building; as a result, the number of black employees was increased from about 200 to 732. In 1941, he led a bus boycott in Harlem; the Transit Authority hired 200 black workers.
In 1941, Powell was elected to the New York City Council as the city's 1st Black Council representative. He received 65,736 votes.
"Mass action is the most powerful force on earth," Powell once said, adding, "As long as it is within the law, it's not wrong; if the law is wrong, change the law." In 1944, Powell ran for the U S Congress on a platform of civil rights for African Americans: support for "fair employment practices, and a ban on poll taxes and lynching." Requiring poll taxes for voter registration and voting was a device used in southern states in new constitutions adopted from 1890 to 1908 to disfranchise blacks and many poor whites, in order to exclude them from politics. Such devices, together with social and economic intimidation, were maintained in the South into the 1960s to keep blacks powerless. .