Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. Criticism - Essay

Frank S. Adams (review date 3 February 1946)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Spokesman for the 'New Negro'," in The New York Times Book Review, February 3, 1946, p. 3.

[In the following review, Adams relates Powell's political aims and beliefs as expressed in Marching Blacks.]

As a boy of 10, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. stood on a chair and traced on his grandfather's back the P branded into his flesh in the days of slavery. It left him with a fierce resolve not to rest until he had wiped that brand from his memory, and from the conscience of white America. This angry volume [Marching Blacks], which he calls "An Interpretive History of the Black Common Man," is dedicated to that purpose.

"I am a radical and a...

(The entire section is 1337 words.)

H. A. Overstreet (review date 9 February 1946)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Striding Down Freedom Road," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXIX, No. 6, February 9, 1946, pp. 34, 36.

[Overstreet was an American critic and educator who frequently wrote on political and educational concerns. In the following review of Marching Blacks, he praises the work as a "fighting book."]

[Marching Blacks] is a fighting book—a non-violent fighting book. It is also a victory book, for there are in its pages no doubts about the outcome. The marching blacks are marching—and the direction is not back to slavery.

On December 7, 1941 [writes Congressman Powell] America for the first time in...

(The entire section is 924 words.)

E. Franklin Frazier (review date 16 February 1946)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Black Common Man," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 162, No. 7, February 16, 1946, pp. 201-02.

[An American educator and nonfiction writer, Frazier was a noted expert on race. In addition to studying conditions in Harlem after the race riots of 1935, he served as president of the International Society for the Scientific Study of Race Relations as well as chairman of UNESCO's Committee of Experts on Race. In the following mixed review of Marching Blacks, he considers Powell's work to be "an effective piece" of motivational writing, but asserts that it is personally indulgent and contains numerous errors.]

In Marching Blacks Representative Adam...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Roy Wilkins (review date 17 February 1946)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Joshua of West 138th St.," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, February 17, 1946, p. 10.

[Wilkins was an American critic, editor, and journalist. The editor of the Kansas City Call and Crisis, Wilkins held numerous executive positions in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Honored for his work as a civil and human rights activist on various occasions, he received the NAACP's Springarn Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the following review, he considers Marching Blacks to be an important book offering insights into political militancy in African-American life.]

The principal...

(The entire section is 767 words.)

David Poling (review date 22 April 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Powell in the Pulpit," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. L, No. 16, April 22, 1967, pp. 86, 89-90.

[Poling is an American minister and editor who frequently writes on religious topics. In the following excerpt, he offers a mixed review of Keep the Faith, Baby!, praising Powell's ability to write terse, topical sermons, but suggesting that Powell plagiarized material from noted sermon writers.]

Adam Clayton Powell has successfully mixed politics and religion for the last twenty-five years. Although the House of Representatives has derailed his political career momentarily, the role of preacher is as strong as ever. Keep the Faith, Baby! is a...

(The entire section is 2109 words.)

Clifford W. Edwards (review date October 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Keep the Faith, Baby, in Negro History Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 6, October, 1967, pp. 22-3.

[In the review below, Edwards faults Keep the Faith, Baby! as "rather colorless and ineffectual."]

A book of sermons by a key figure in the controversies and achievements of an era might well promise to provide an excellent sourcebook for church historians. Many may therefore look with expectancy to this collection.

Unfortunately, in spite of some attempts at relevancy, Keep the Faith, Baby, is a rather colorless, conservative, and ordinary sampling of sermons.

Most of the 42 sermons included were preached by Adam Clayton Powell from his pulpit in the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, a church reputedly founded by a group who refused to sit in the slave gallery of the only Baptist Church in New York over 150 years ago. Of the ten sermons assigned a preaching date, the earliest was delivered in 1950 and the latest in 1962. Subjects range from Easter, Palm Sunday, Mother's Day, and Negro History Week, to Capital Punishment, the Verwoerd Regime in South Africa, the 1960 National Election, and a New York City School Boycott.

Even Powell's efforts to deal with contemporary issues seem rather colorless and ineffectual as they founder on his own attachment to the success of the church-establishment. His message finally becomes the plea:

      We must fill our churches to a point of overflowing
      We must give to our church coffers until it hurts.
      We must rally behind our ministers.

There is a strong element of churchly defensiveness as Powell apparently feels his leadership threatened by new movements within the Negro community. He insists:

The Negroes' church itself should be the political, educational, economic and social capital of the Negro race.

Powell refuses to recognize the role of other agencies or organizations in meeting the Negro's needs: "It can only be accomplished through the Negroes' church."

When one compares the generally colorless and conservative preaching of Powell with the powerful metaphors and evangelistic zeal that were exhibited by a Malcolm X, one can see the likelihood of truth in Malcolm X's claim concerning the very neighborhood of Powell's church:

(in Harlem) … we discovered the best "fishing" audience of all, by far the best-conditioned audience for Mr. Muhammad's teachings: the Christian churches (The Autobiography of Malcolm X).

Martin Kilson (review date 7 November 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Adam by Adam, in The New York Times Book Review, November 7, 1971, pp. 4, 16, 18.

[An educator and critic, Kilson is author of Political Change in a West African State (1966). In the following review, he argues that Powell does not assess himself rigorously enough in Adam by Adam.]

(The entire section is 1684 words.)

The New Yorker (review date 13 November 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Adam by Adam, in The New Yorker, Vol. XLVII, No. 39, November 13, 1971, 1971, pp. 202-03.

[In the following excerpt, the critic offers a brief review of Adam by Adam.]

[Adam by Adam is an] impenitent apologia by the energetic, flamboyant former congressman from New York. Mr. Powell insists that the various moves against him were retaliation for his pertinacious pursuit of racial equality—a plausible point, inasmuch as the actions, including a suit by the Internal Revenue Service and the House of Representatives' refusal to seat him, were not sustained. And there is no question but that the style of Negro leadership throughout most of...

(The entire section is 166 words.)

David M. Oshinsky (review date 7 February 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Monument to an Enormous Ego," in The New Leader, Vol. LV, No. 3, February 7, 1972, pp. 20-1.

[In the following review, Oshinsky laments Powell's lack of analysis and introspection in Adam by Adam.]

How could it possibly miss? The autobiography of America's most visceral black leader—the man who exhorted others to "tell it like it is." With his health failing and his public career now behind him, Adam Powell would finally let us know how one man could, with such instinctive virtuosity, play the diverse (and often conflicting) roles of super playboy, Baptist minister, political huckster, progressive reformer, Harlem aristocrat, and militant "street nigger."...

(The entire section is 1326 words.)

Charles V. Hamilton (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Harlem: A Report to the Mayor and Advice from a Columnist," in Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma, Atheneum, 1991, pp. 55-69.

[An American educator, nonfiction writer, and biographer, Hamilton frequently writes on twentieth-century political and social issues, particularly as they relate to race. In the excerpt below, he discusses Powell's work as a newspaper columnist in the late 1930s.]

[Following his highly visible and apparently well-received articles in the New York Post, Powell] began a weekly column in the Amsterdam News in February 1936, entitled "The Soap Box." Harlem's readers, as well as...

(The entire section is 1511 words.)