On Tuesday 14 September of this year, there will be a primary. On the ballot for the most densely populated of all US Congressional Districts will be two names: Charlie Rangel, and Adam Clayton Powell IV.
I bet you think I'm going to talk about how nice it is that someone is challenging Rangel because I've been so closely following his ethics issues. Well sure, that's amusing, but there more here. So much more. And kids, it's rich: like tapestry.
Let's talk Powells.
Start with Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. Born in 1865 to a white slave owner and his mother, a slave. Grew up to be a religious man.
Then, there is Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. A pastor like his dad, he was elected to the House in 1945. First black elected from New York. Ever. Second black from any Northern state post-reconstruction. He and William Johnson were the only blacks in the House (and none in the Senate) from 1945 through 1955. They were joined by one or two others, until black representation began to rise in the mid-to-late 1960's. Remember, the House and Senate dining rooms were segregated when Powell became a Congressman. Lynching for being black was legal. "N****r" was an acceptable term on the floor of the House.
Stand in awe for what these guys did, and hear the song "We Shall Overcome" in your head. Be impressed: it was certainly the marchers, those who died of bomb blasts and took the beatings....but it was also the quiet rebellion of men like Powell, a CONGRESSMAN working to change a segregated dining room at his workplace.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr had a few, um, legal issues. It's a long story, but the Cliff Notes version is that the House refused to seat him. The kinds of "ethical" things he was charged with pale in comparison to the mastery of Charlie Rangel, and a bunch of younger pols. So, he sued. The Supremes eventually said the House had to seat him. Justice is slow, and in the interim he won ANOTHER election.
In the end, though, he lost a primary to Charlie Rangel in 1970, and gave up his seat for good in January of 1971. As you know, Charlie's been there ever since.
The district itself has been reapportioned a number of times, but only nudging north on the island of Manhattan. It started in Harlem, parts of which it still includes, but now also includes parts of Morningside Heights. Of note, this CD used to be predominantly black, and now is predominantly Hispanic.
Now, as for "Adam Clayton Powell IV" - there are two of them. You think I make this stuff up....Adam Clayton Powell Jr was married three times. With his second wife, he had a son Adam Clayton Powell III. He's not running for anything. Adam Clayton Powell III had a son named Adam Clayton IV. He's also not running for anything. Meanwhile, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr and his third wife Yvette Diago Powell, had a son Adam Clayton Powell Diago. There is a Hispanic naming tradition which I don't understand well enough to explain (although I'm sure if one of you does, it will be in the comments in a little bit). Adam Clayton Powell Diago (who is actually the uncle of the other Adam Clayton Powell IV) changed his name to Adam Clayton Powell, IV in 1980 and he IS the one running against Charlie Rangel.
The running Powell challenged Charlie in 1994 and lost by a landslide. In addition, he's been arrested for drunk driving, but got off when the jury settled on "driving while ability impaired" which in NY is a lot like a speeding ticket. Still - expect to see it again. Still, you're going to like ACP4, trust me. The Vieques arrest, the dedication to his district, the totality of him and richness of the family saga.
A race worth watching, and I know I'm sticking with it.
And oh, by the way - whichever one wins the primary wins the seat. If Rangel wins the primary, he may win the seat only to resign in January to be able to appoint his successor. The Powell-Rangel animose actually does go that deep.