On Feb. 17th 2005, I attended the unveiling of “Higher Ground”: statue designed by Sculptor, Branly Cadet in honor of famed Congressman and religious leader Dr. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. The location of statue is fitting (125th St. & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.) considering the impact that Adam had on the area.
When I started Harlem Heritage Tours I took it for granted that because I was from Harlem that I must know everything about Harlem, and quickly I realized different when I searched my brain for info. about Adam Clayton Powell Jr. I then purchased a book by Will Haygood – “King of the Cats”. I was amazed by Adam’s accomplishments and became an instant FANATIC. Adam was born November 29th, 1908, 21 years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 17 years before Malcolm X. These two great men must have been influenced by Adam one way or another considering that Adam was there predecessor in efforts for blacks to gain their Civil Rights.
I was stunned to learn about his marching up and down 125th Street in Harlem demanding jobs for Blacks who lived in the community – and winning every fight. Employing tactics such as having Harlemites pay their electric bill with pennies instead of dollars. I think if you tried that tactic today it would be successful. In 1941 Adam took on the New York City Omnibus company demanding jobs for Blacks. A boycott of the bus company resulted leading to more than 200 blacks being provided employment – WOW.
Adam’s battle cry was “DON’T BUY WHERE YOU CAN’T WORK” – I never heard a word about this growing up in Harlem.
Adam was the man in Harlem, became 1st Black Councilmen in 1941, then Congressman representing Harlem in 1944. Imagine what it must have been like racially back then on Capital Hill. Adam immediately took on the system making his presence felt in facilities where Blacks were formerly excluded and also brought his Black staff along to make a statement that he would not tolerate such treatment for anyone of Color.
In 1961 Adam became Chairmen of the House Committee on Education and Labor. During the 1960’s those were two of the top reasons why people were marching – for the right to attend the school you wanted and for fair employment. Adam was Chairmen of the committee on Capital Hill – PERFECT FIT. People don’t realize that many of the laws written during his Chairmanship helped us go to college, gain fair employment, engage in cultural activities, EAT, attend to the disabled, control juvenile delinquency, fight poverty and so much more.
Some say that Adam was self indulging, I’ve heard many things and I realize that he had his ways, no one is perfect. More than that I think about the following:
I remember those stemming hot summer days going to the local school cafeteria and eating the free lunch, I never drank the milk but always found ways to get an extra juice with the thin aluminum seal. My friends liked the franks, but I liked the Hamburgers – if not for those meals what would we have done on those 90 degree plus days. Adam wrote the LAW for such meals to be available.
1983 I got my first job working with the Summer Youth Employment Program. I learned so much that summer working at the King Towers Basketball Tournament on the grounds of the housing project I lived in. I also got paid and purchased the ill Adidas with the sky blue stripes + lee jeans in mad flavors + mock necks galore. Yes I was fly going back to school that September. Adam passed laws via his “War On Poverty” programs that made my SYEP job possible.
1988 I arrived on the Campus of Buffalo University and parked by bags in room 368 Red Jackets Quad. I proceeded to meet my EOP (Equal Opportunity Program) representative and from there with vouchers galore off to get books and supplies. Next was meal plan, by the end of the day Ya Boy was straight with only $56.00 to my name – I had paid for nothing at this point. Because I was from an economically depressed household I received practically total aid the first two years of college – guess who wrote the legislation for such benefits: ADAM.
1992 I started working for Chase Manhattan Bank and then Citibank. Adam fought day and night to make it so that Blacks and women would have the right to gain fair employment through out the country. I learned so much at those jobs and therefore I was some what prepared to run my own business – thanks ADAM. Seriously, if not for Adam where would I be ?
Below is footage from the unveiling of the statue that exists on 125th Street in Harlem. The Sculptors name is Branly Cadet, not Brandon as shown in the below clip. The Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Memorial Committee was formed in the mid 1990’s for the purpose of erecting this statue and they deserve a ton of credit for the art being realized. When walking past this statue remember the hurdles that Adam had to overcome to get the very businesses in the area to hire Blacks “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” is what he would say.
“Keep the Faith Baby” – Dr. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.