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 fighter," he says of himself. His book and his record both bear witness to the truth of that characterization. This is no calm, dispassionate study of America's most difficult problem, but the battle cry of an embittered man, who avows his hope that his cause will triumph without bloodshed, but warns that only the conscience of white America can prevent another civil war from being fought with all the fury of the war that freed the slaves.
Despite—or perhaps because of—his highly emotional approach to the problem Dr. Powell has become in recent years one of the leading spokesmen for what he calls "the new Negro." His record of achievement and his demonstrated popularity among his people make worthwhile a careful examination of the goal to which he seeks to take them, and the methods and tactics by which he plans to reach it.
At the age of 37 he is already a national figure. He is the pastor of the largest Negro church in the world, with more than 10,000 adherents. So idolized is he in Harlem that he was elected to Congress without opposition—the first member of his race to be elected from New York State—after he had won the Democratic, Republican and American Labor party nominations. He is the publisher of a Harlem newspaper, The People's Voice.
Master of a fiery eloquence that visibly stirs his Harlem audiences to peaks of emotion, he has been called by his enemies "a Communist-controlled rabble-rouser." Some of his own statements make it understandable how such charges could gain currency. To him one of the great contributions of the Scottsboro case was the emergence of communism as a power fighting for the rights of poor people. "Today there is no group in America, including the Christian Church, that practices racial brotherhood one-tenth as much as the Communist party," he writes.
A Doctor of Divinity himself, Dr. Powell says that at the time of Pearl Harbor "Christianity had been abolished" among 15,000,000 brown Americans, who "pitied the white folks' Christianity, their class system and decadent politics, their fears born of self-indulgence, injustice and oppression." "The great wedge that keeps America split asunder is the hypocrisy of the Christian church," he says, and the black people "will not stop until out of the rubble of present day religion there rises an edifice that includes all races, all creeds and all classes."
A member of Congress, bound by oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, Dr. Powell nevertheless warns that the Negroes will not stop "until a people's democracy is born out of the rotten, decaying political life of America," and "from the confusion created by enemies within the working class movement there comes a workers' society predicated upon a people's democracy." If America reverts to "normal, peace-time pseudo-democracy," then America is doomed.
The American Federation of...
(This entire section contains 1337 words.)
Labor, he says, is the greatest drawback to a developing democracy, and is "a disgrace to the working class movement." He believes the hour is rapidly approaching when the Negro is going to ask the Congress of Industrial Organizations to have a showdown fight with the A.F. of L., for until the controlling clique of the A.F. of L. has been driven from power democracy will suffer.
"Both the black and the white Socialist would rather see the Negro continue as a second-class serf than cooperate with any movement with which Communists were associated, regardless of how insignificant was the role that the Communist played," Dr. Powell sneers, ignoring the historical background for the reluctance of Socialists to allow themselves to be used to pull Communist chestnuts out of the fire.
Dr. Powell does not limit his hatreds to white men and their organizations. One of his principal targets is the slave caste system that developed among the Negroes, under which the house Negroes spied upon and betrayed the field Negroes. Today the field Negro is in the ascendancy and means to stay there, he writes, while the house Negroes, except for a few "Uncle Toms," are trying to ingratiate themselves with the Negro masses.
Even more vicious than the divisions of the caste system, he declares, was the separation of light-skinned and dark-skinned Negroes. The taboo against intra-racial marriages between light and dark Negroes was more rigorous in some communities than that against interracial marriages, Dr. Powell tells us. The light-skinned Negroes and mulattoes established an upper class that retained its dominant position until the depression years of the last decade.
Harlem was a cesspool before the riots of March 19, 1937—the first race riot ever started by Negroes, Dr. Powell says. But, he avers, the Negro has never lost a race riot; some progress, some token improvement, has always followed, and this was no exception. Out of the Harlem riot a new Negro was born, who came to learn and practice the power of nonviolent social action.
The picket line, the boycott and the ballot are the weapons for such action, he says. In the four years before Pearl Harbor the picket line and the boycott were used to support the slogan, "Don't buy where you can't work," directed against Harlem merchants who refused to employ Negroes. The campaign brought 10,000 jobs and $10,000,000 in pay to Harlem Negroes, Dr. Powell says; he envisions its application on a nation-wide scale.
Even a group as poor as the Negroes, if it controls its mass purchasing power, can force the mightiest of corporations to reconsider its policy. True, we are only 10 per cent of the population, but the margin of profit today is under 10 per cent. The Negroes can smash that margin of profit, or at least so cut it that the strongest corporation will be willing to talk to their representatives.
But the South, Dr. Powell says bitterly, is hopeless. Negroes aren't wanted in the South. Five to eight million Negroes must migrate from the South in the immediate postwar years, he believes; 1,000,000 to New York, 500,000 to Philadelphia, 250,000 to Boston, 750,000 to Detroit and Chicago, and 2,000,000 to Los Angeles and San Diego, until the backbone of the Southern economy has disappeared and a profound change in the South's philosophy has been brought about.
Six possible solutions to the Negro problem—eradication, isolation, deportation, separation, integration and assimilation—have all been supported by Negroes at various times, Dr. Powell says. But today all but a handful of Negroes are convinced that the only solution is integration. Taking cognizance of Dr. Myrdal's finding that the chief cause of discrimination is the white fear of intermarriage, he says that to the black man social equality means equality in health, housing and recreational and cultural facilities. His answer will not still the fears of those who believe that the ultimate result of social equality, regardless of the present desires of black people, is bound to be intermarriage—a view that does not justify continued discrimination but does cast doubt on the possibility of any completely satisfactory solution of the problem.
Many good causes have had intemperate advocates. Whether such intemperance, in the long run, advances or retards the cause in which it is exerted is not susceptible to precise determination. Dr. Powell, like William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown, would brook no compromise. It is greatly to be hoped that his intransigence will have a happier outcome than did theirs.
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 its history enlisted upon two wars simultaneously. One was a world war and the other a civil war. One was to be a bloody fight for the preservation and extension of democracy on a world basis—the other a bloodless revolution within these shores against a bastard democracy.
These last two are not pleasant words for some white ears. For the black man to say it straight out that our democracy is illegitimate spawn will rouse fury among white-supremacy folk. Yet Mr. Powell has chapter and verse for his indictment. "The sneak attack of the Japanese upon our mid-Pacific base was no more vicious than the open attacks that had been waged consistently … against the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights." And, as he later shows, that are today being waged by Congressmen in their fight against the Negro's right to fair employment practices.
The author calls his book "an interpretive history of the rise of the black common man"; and he dedicates it "to the freedom fighters of the earth, at home and abroad, black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic." The book is written in the context of a world fight for freedom. We are, as he rightly tells us, waging a civil war that extends all over the world—a war between those who insist upon their right to push others around, and those who, with a new passion of energy, insist that others shall no longer be pushed around.
The book tells the story of the Negro's growth "not in terms of statistics, population, and wealth, but in terms of his increasing mass power." This power, the writer says, is a new phenomenon. Negroes have hitherto failed chiefly because of divisions among themselves: differences as to policy—between those who would appease the white man and those who would fight him; between those who would beg favors of him and those who would demand rights; between those who would resign themselves to be meek hewers of wood and drawers of water in a white man's society and those who would aspire to any level of profession or occupation of which their minds were capable. There were the divisions, too, of caste and class. Negroes imitated the snobbery of the whites, looking down upon their darker or their poorer fellows from heights of lighter color or greater wealth.
Dr. Powell tells a story of Negro unification that is amazing both as a fact and as a portent of the future. If he is correct in his account (and he brings fact after fact to support his contention), the Negro is no longer powerless. In achieving his own unification—in becoming the "mass Negro"—he has found his essential weapon of offense and defense.
But the Negro does not stand alone. A growing number of whites are marching beside him. This, obviously, is as it should be. Negro nationalism has no place where equality is the word. For where equality is the word there must be an equality of fighting valor. Whites and blacks must fight side by side. In this book they are shown, in instance after instance, fighting and moving ahead together.
For the white reader who is well minded toward the Negro but who is still unclear about the distance we must go before the racial issue approaches a solution this book should be illuminating reading. In few books is the ugliness of racial injustice so vividly and succinctly described; in few is the case so clearly stated for the fact that race prejudice is a poison that kills dignity and decency in the souls of race haters.
In the final part of the book, Dr. Powell proposes a strategy of mass migration from the South. Here opinions will seriously differ. To some persons, a mass migration of Southern Negroes into the already congested slums of Northern cities, particularly at a time when anti-Negro sentiment has been roused among Northern whites, would appear to be a grave mistake. Successes, such as those the author describes, along political lines would seem to such persons to be far more effective.
The author's bitterness against the betrayal of Christianity by the churches should be read by all churchmen. Defiantly he asserts:
The first duty of the blacks … is to Christianize religion … Negro religionists refuse to be divided by the age-old antagonisms of the white church—Protestantism of Luther was of dubious doctrine. The Protestantism of the postwar world will be a Protestantism of protest. Based upon the spirit, it will cut across all existing lines of communion. It will be a religion of one faith, one people and one world, and not a provincial ecclesiasticism. It will recognize goodness in all the religions of the earth, and will not strive to place Christianity on a competitive basis but on a cooperative one. This is the religion of the new man the world over, black and white, brown and yellow.
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 Clayton Powell, Jr., presents what he calls "an interpretative history of the rise of the black common man." The rise of the "black common man" is traced through three periods: Africa to Chicago, covering the period 1526–1920; the period of "the boom and the crash," 1920–40; and the period from Pearl Harbor to the present. The discussion of the changes in the status of the Negro during these three periods is characterized by many shrewd insights, novel and unwarranted interpretations of historical facts, and much justifiable indignation. For example, such phenomena as the emergence of a class of free Negroes before the Civil War and the advantageous position of the house slaves and the mulattoes are treated as if they were due to some consciously planned conspiracy against the black masses. In championing the cause of the black masses against the talented tenth of lighter complexion, the Reverend Mr. Powell indulges in much rabble rousing, claiming that he is a descendant of the black field Negroes. His section on what happened to the Negro from 1920 to 1940 offers a fair analysis of the changes in the Negro's status as long as it sticks to facts. The third part contains an indictment of the nation for its treatment of the Negro during World War II, which, Powell holds, began as a race war and was converted into Civil War II to complete the emancipation of the Negro. We are still engaged in Civil War II, which can only be won by the migration of the millions of Negroes from the South. This book was written, undoubtedly, to spur the Negro to continue his fight for freedom, and as such it is an effective piece of writing. But, unfortunately, it is marred by a number of glaring errors. There are errors concerning dates of well-known happenings, and in one case a white man is described as the "first Negro to emerge in this century as an educated, subsidized Uncle Tom."
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 recommendation for solution of America's so-called Negro problem advanced by Minister-Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. [in his Marching Blacks] is emigration from the South to the North and West. In his best emotional style, not unlike the peroration of a sermon at his huge Abyssinian Baptist Church, Mr. Powell exhorts:
As soon as World War II is over millions of marching blacks of the Southland must pack up and move … The people must move—and now! This is the only answer to the South's inhumanity to man … The Negroes have wasted in the wilderness of the South long enough … let them leave! Turn their backs on Egyptland! On Pharaoh and his power!… The cry now is "Turn Ye Northward."
Mr. Powell has it all worked out. He wants a million Negroes to come to New York: a half-million to Philadelphia: 250,000 to Boston: 750,000 divided between Chicago and Detroit: 1,000,000 scattered over Ohio and Indiana: 250,000 to Los Angeles and San Diego: with a half-million into the Northwest.
The colorful young Congressman from Harlem, who likes nothing better than controversy and attendant publicity, brushes aside the effect on the North and West of this migration by saying it would be no worse than the migration from Europe to America before immigration was put on a quota basis.
But this book is not merely to urge Negroes to move from the South to solve their problems. It is—never subtly—to urge them to follow Mr. Powell. Never one to hide his talents under a bushel, the author in two remarkable chapters, "The People's Man" and "Jericho and Joshua," sets forth how the people chose him, and how he, as the Joshua of a race, led them around the Jericho of proscription, frustration and hate, until the walls came tumbling down.
No one should ignore the obvious abilities of the author. He is a force to be reckoned with. It is not to be denied that he played a leading role in mobilizing inarticulate sections of the Harlem population during the dark and seemingly pathless days of the great depression. He taught them how to ask and work for what they needed, and what, it may be added, was due them. Now patiently, and now in fiery, near-demagogic speeches, he taught them and led them. If he asked them in return to send him first to the City Council and then to Congress, they still, in all honesty, have the best of the deal. The new power he has taught them to use is cheap at the price.
True, he is master of all the tricks of rousing what he calls "the masses." He plays many notes, but one consistently: the "light" Negroes against the "black," the "sassiety" against the "common people." Light himself, he delights in aligning himself with the "blacks." The very name of his book betrays this complex—daring to use it despite more than a suspicion that the blackest American Negro detests being called "a black."
Mr. Powell tells of his successive collaboration with all manner of groups during his upward climb in Harlem between 1932 and 1944, when he was elected to Congress. It does not seem strange to him that these people included rabid, anti-Semitic black chauvinists, unprincipled street-corner rabble rousers, racketeers masquerading but thinly as bona-fide labor unionists, and a motley crew of pure opportunists, using the battle cry of racial discrimination for personal or group ends.
The impression is inescapable throughout this book that Marching Blacks falls far short of its subtitle: An Interpretive History of the Rise of the Black Common Man. The black "common man" was rising long before the author left the Colgate campus. There is abundant evidence that he is continuing to rise and without awaiting with bated breath the trumpet from the Joshua in West 138th Street, New York.
Nevertheless, it is an important recitation, for even stripped of the ever-blooming ego of its author, and of his oratorical style, it reveals with fair accuracy the new militancy abroad in Negro life today.
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 collection of sermons, meditations, and speeches delivered at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Here we have a glimpse of the style, interests, and themes of Powell in the pulpit in contrast to the playboy of Bimini, Cutty Sark and milk fame.
Will the Reverend Powell be asked to conduct seminary classes on preaching or sermon construction? I doubt it. But he has to be considered above average in ability to relate scripture to the needs and problems of everyday life. There is a directness, an economy of words that eludes too many preachers. The strongest sermons are fashioned around social issues that have swirled about the church in more than a decade: capital punishment, McCarthyism, civil rights, God is Dead, and, of late, Black Power.
He describes his own ground rules:
I believe it is the business of the preacher to say an eternal word in a contemporary setting; to say a permanent word in a changing world; to help those who enter the doors to have not only a sense of history but a sense of the age.
In the sermon on capital punishment he notes that the rich usually go free while the poor go to the graveyard.
In this decade we must move still further. The gallows, the gas chamber, the electric chair, should be relegated to our museums; to their appointed places along with the rack, the thumbscrew, the guillotine, and other discarded instruments of primitive injustice.
A thunder-and-lightning sermon on McCarthyism came right to the point when Powell said, "It is a reflection of the moral irresponsibility of the church which condones him, the press which praises him, and the large numbers of American people who follow him." As strong as this piece was, it seemed rather late in the fray: November 29, 1959.
We come to the best and the worst of this book for faith-keeping babies: respectively Powell's attitude toward Black Power and his slighting of Vietnam. If the ground rules have not changed on Powell's definitions, many people would be able to subscribe to his interpretation and promotion of Black Power: He writes:
… black power is not anti-white.
Black power incorporates everybody who wishes to work together, vote together, and worship together…. Violence must play no part in its fulfillment….
After years and years of rioting, black people should realize by now that when we burn up the neighborhood dry cleaners in a riot or a rebellion, we set our own clothes on fire…. Whites must join hands with blacks to achieve the full freedom of the Guaranteed Society because they are determined to get their full measure of freedom.
Powell's civil rights-Black Power statements have none of the yakety-yak that he has been feeding the public via press and TV interviews from the decks of Adam's Fancy. Vietnam, however, is a large shameful gap in Powell's sermons. Apparently his war is in Rhodesia and South Africa, not with troops in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
One of Pastor Powell's difficulties is giving credit to original sources. Quotation marks are about as rare as his appearances in Harlem. In his sermon, "The Temptation of Modernity," the text is Matthew 4:1-10, the account of Jesus's temptation in the wilderness. Fascinating parallels develop between Powell's discourse and George A. Buttrick's exposition in Vol. VII of the Interpreter's Bible.
Let us now examine these temptations of Jesus' day and of today. For as Browning said in his Aristophanes' Apology, "When the fight begins with himself, a man's worth something."… Men and steel are alike uncertain until they are tested.
… It is a chance to rise as much as it is a chance to fall. "When the fight begins within himself, a man's worth something," for men and steel are alike uncertain until they are tested. (Browning, "Bishop Blougram's Apology")
I want you to note the Old Testament doctrine of the devil. He is a personal devil. And let us admit that the temptations that beset us today are personal persuasions.
Notice the O.T. doctrine of the devil. He is personal. Are not the seductions that beset us personal persuasions, and not merely of ourselves?
I love the story about Dwight Moody during a crisis; he wouldn't pray while others did, and when they upbraided him he said, "Brethren, I'm all prayed up."
When Dwight L. Moody was upbraided because he failed to attend a prayer meeting in the midst of threatened shipwreck, he replied: "I'm prayed up."
Jesus did not center His mission on an economic crusade. He did not forsake the Cross for a bakeshop. Man does live by bread, but not by bread alone.
Jesus would not center his mission in an economic crusade. He would not live merely for time, or forsake a Cross for a bakeshop. Man does live by bread … but man does not live by bread alone.
I like the story I heard in Transjordan of a hungry Arab who suddenly finds a treasure in the midst of the desert and cries, "Alas, it is only diamonds!"
The famished Bedouin, finding treasure in the desert, cried, "Alas, it is only diamonds."
Carlisle [sic] in his great Sartor Resartus, Book II in the ninth chapter, says, "Not all the finance ministers, upholsterers, and confectioners of Europe in joint stock company, could make one shoeblack happy for more than a couple of hours."
Carlyle said that not all the "Finance Ministers and Upholsterers and Confectioners of modern Europe … in joint stock company," could "make one shoeblack happy … above an hour or two." (Sartor Resartus, Bk. II., ch. ix.)
Jesus might be able to shake a shallow generation out of its indifference, its unbelief.
Noble spirits are always tempted to be sensational for the sake of God. God is not proved by sleight of hand…. How often we try!
He might startle a shallow generation out of its indifference into sudden belief. Noble spirits are tempted to the sensational for the sake of God…. God is not improved by sleight of hand: the soul has its own testimony, and God is his own interpreter … man has no right to force God's hand. How often we try….
At that very moment the Romans had a garrison in every town, crushing with taxes and ruthlessly oppressing the people.
At that moment the Romans had a garrison in every sizeable town, by which they levied crushing taxes and ruthlessly suppressed any attempt at revolt.
These are examples of the curious duplications that crop up in Keep the Faith, Baby!
In the sermon "Are You the Right Size?" Pastor Powell takes the wrong measurements. He tries to ease Halford Luccock's sermon into his own book but it just doesn't fit. At first it seemed just a coincidence of text and title but then Luccock's illustrations and skillful way of saying things kept breaking through. Small wonder. Luccock, who taught at Yale Divinity School for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1953, was the preacher's preacher for almost a half-century. In his book of sermons, Marching Off the Map, appears the sermon "On Being the Right Size." Compare the two:
I sat the other day talking to a very wealthy young woman. She talked literally for hours. I couldn't get a word in. In this earth-shaking hour the important people for her were Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, Hattie Carnegie, Emily Post, Lilly Daché, Fanny Farmer, and Betty Crocker. They are all good gals but they are too small for our world.
I have heard one woman talk voluminously on several occasions—when the exits were blocked and I couldn't get away. She made it clear that in her mind there is a little private Pantheon, in which are all the people who really count in her diminutive world. Here are some: Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, Hattie Carnegie, Emily Post, Lilly Daché, Fannie Farmer, and Betty Crocker! They are all good girls! But it is a microscopic world.
Luccock never went to Bimini but it appears he has been heard frequently in Harlem. Vide:
I can take an electric micrometer and measure one ten thousandth of an inch. I can peek into one of the new giant telescopes and see a galaxy of stars a thousand light-years away.
For there are incredible instruments today which can measure everything, from one ten-thousandth of an inch to a galaxy of stars a thousand light years away.
"A small animal has resistance to gravity relatively ten times greater than its driving force." That's why a fly can walk on a ceiling or a mouse can fall a thousand feet and only be slightly dazed.
"A small animal has resistance to gravity relatively ten times greater than the driving force." Hence, flies can walk on the ceiling, and a thousand-foot fall, which would kill a man, or even a rat, will give a mouse only a slight daze …
Our question for this morning is: "What is the right size of mind and heart to fit our day and our world?"
Our simple question is this: what would be the right size of mind and heart to fit our day and our world?
Through motion pictures and television we can hear a pin drop in Europe and a bomb drop in Asia. Do we have minds that match our eyes and our ears?
Ears, that in New York can hear a pin drop in New Zealand, or a bomb drop in Korea! There is need of minds to match the eyes and ears.
Anyone who fits snugly and smugly into a small world of individual interests is the wrong size.
I call upon you this morning to take the most momentous journey in the world—from "I" to "We."
Anyone who fits snugly into a small world of merely individual interests is the wrong size—too small…. We are all called upon to take the most momentous journey in the world, the journey from "I" to "We."
When the rich young fool purred to Jesus his self-satisfaction over his prosperity in three short sentences he used the word "I" or "my" thirteen times. Jesus said, "Thou fool."
When the Rich Fool purrs his self-satisfaction over his prosperity, in three short sentences he uses the words "I" or "my" thirteen times! For him, at least, thirteen was an unlucky number! For God said, "Thou fool!"
We need people today who are the right size to fit the globe, the only size that has any survival value.
Again, consider the need of people the right size to fit a globe. That is the only size that has any survival value.
One person with his mind made up can push a lot of folks around.
Casey, the ex-preacher in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, put it truly and forcibly: "One person with their minds made up can push a lot of folks around."
The empty promises of Communism make no appeal to well-fed Americans, but they are of tremendous appeal to the hungry, landless and hopeless millions of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The empty promises of Communism make no appeal to well-fed people in the United States. They have a tremendous appeal to the hungry, landless, hopeless millions of Asia, people with little or nothing to lose.
If we are to be the right size for our day, we must be tall enough to bump the sky.
If we are to be the right size for our day and its demands, we must be tall enough to bump the sky….
Like some of his colleagues, [Powell] has discovered that it is one thing to preach and quite another to publish. Dean Liston Pope of Yale once said to his students before an examination: "I trust no one will glance at another's paper, for lo, if he does, some Saturday night he will take another man's sermon."
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).
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 political style of America's black leaders varies as much as the style of its white leaders. It ranges from the soft-spoken businesslike pragmatist to the exhibitionistic, back-slapping demagogue, with infinite variation between these polar extremes. White leadership in this century has had numerous examples of the exhibitionistic demagogue, especially among the urban ethnic politicians (Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polish) and among white-racist, Protestant leaders in the South. This type has also existed among Negro leaders in this century, primarily among those who emanate from the racially segregated urban quarters that developed outside the South consequent to the mass migration of Southern blacks from World War I onward.
In fact, what I call the exhibitionistic or demagogic style, characterized by the uncompromising articulation of the bitter frustrations experienced by all sectors of the black ghetto, was indispensable to the emergence of independent Negro leadership in American cities in the years following World War I. This style, basically a black-racialist style, afforded the Negro politician the means for his own political base, outside the established political arrangements. Through the manipulation of black racialism, the Negro politician induced the emergence of latent political resources within black ghetto institutions such as churches and fraternal bodies, within mutual-aid groups in the working class and professional associations like the National (Negro) Bar Association and the National (Negro) Medical Association. In this way, then, some of the first Negro-controlled political organizations in American cities were built, including those of Negro politicians like William Dawson (third Negro elected to Congress in this century, 1942–1970) who, having carved out a political base by manipulating black racialism, eventually discarded the demagogic style for the businesslike pragmatist style.
The political career of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the main concern of Adam by Adam, was a model of the successful articulation of black racialism in American politics. Powell, unlike the late Representative William Dawson, clung to the demagogic style throughout his career—shrewdly amending and recasting it through different phases in the growth of racial consciousness among urban Negroes.
Unfortunately, Adam by Adam, like most political autobiographies, is deficient in serious self-analysis. Powell exhibits little capacity either to perceive the mainsprings (personal, emotional, parental, social) of his political style or to sustain any systematic analysis of the behavior emanating from this style. Yet Powell is a discerning observer of American politics, both at the city and national levels, as well as of the pattern of cruel defeats and frustrations that surround the life of the ghetto Negro.
Born in 1908, within several years of the commencement of sizable Negro migration from the South to Northern cities, Powell, the son of an upper-middle-class Baptist clergyman who had speculated successfully in Harlem real estate, was reared in an era when thousands of blacks began facing the problems of urban adjustment. They were maliciously harassed and impeded at every turn by anti-Negro, white city machines—bureaucrats, politicians, police. Powell observed the perpetual failure of every strata within the Harlem ghetto to sustain leadership long enough to make a dent in the ghetto's massive pathologies and frustrations.
Upon completing college in 1930, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was unexpectedly launched into New York City politics. This occurred when he responded favorably to requests from several leading Negro medical doctors (led by Dr. Ira McCown, later the physician of the New York State Boxing Commission) to help end blatant racial discrimination against Negro doctors at Harlem Hospital, a city institution. Run exclusively by white doctors and administrators (largely Irish), the Harlem Hospital served a largely Negro clientele. By the 1930's this clientele, especially the working and lower classes, had their usual frustrations compounded by massive unemployment caused by the Great Depression. It was to this sector of the clientele that Adam Clayton Powell Jr. turned for the leverage necessary to influence a change in the white supremacist practices of Irish doctors and administrators in Harlem Hospital.
Powell, gifted at oratory and popular arousal, pioneered the tactics of mass (and angry) direct action against white supremacist institutions; by his reckoning he enticed 6,000 of "the people of the streets, the failures, the misfits, the despised, the maimed, the beaten, the sightless and the voiceless" to march on Harlem Hospital and City Hall. In this initial political act Powell discovered the political style and tactics that were to characterize his political career.
Powell entered national politics in 1944, when he was elected to Congress, the first Negro elected from the East in this century. In Congress he encountered situations that reinforced his attachment to militant racialism and the demagogic political style. Initially, Powell, "the first bad Nigger in Congress"—as he styles himself in the autobiography—encountered pervasive white supremacy in the facilities of Congress, something he shared with the three other Negro politicians who preceded him (Oscar DePriest, 1928–1934, Arthur Mitchell, 1934–1942, and William Dawson). But Powell suffered the white racist life style of the United States Congress poorly. He lashed out against it frequently, restraining his bitterness and aggression only when political prudence dictated, which was not very often.
Powell also began to understand that acquiescence to Congress's racist life style or adaptation of the businesslike pragmatist style that governed its political relationships would destroy his political independence. He would be required to make peace with the city and county machines which, through regular and predictable resources, controlled the lifeline of Congressmen. Pliant Congressmen, as most are, are ensured reelection in this manner, all things given; William Dawson, initially an exponent of black racialism who turned pragmatist, had guaranteed himself nearly 30 years of Congressional office. Yet Powell, aided by the independent resources of his church (the Abyssinian Baptist Church) and its 11,000 communicants was willing to forgo the benefits of compliance to Congressional political style. He alone in the years before sizable Negro representation in Congress (currently 13 blacks are there) used national politics as a platform for articulating the black racialist view of the Negro's status in American society.
Finally, Powell discovered in Congress that liberalism was a doubtful political method and style for solving the weaknesses of Negroes in American society. The willingness of liberal Congressmen in the Democratic party, under the New Deal, to sacrifice the needs and interests of Negroes whenever the decisive power formations in Congress considered these interests expendable annoyed Powell deeply. He displayed throughout his career much less ability to compromise this matter than did his Negro Congressional peers. To do so appeared to him a matter of life and death. When he gained the chairmanship of the powerful House Education and Labor Committee in 1961, to the chagrin of white liberals in Congress, he periodically attached pro-Negro amendments—popularly called "Powell amendments"—to crucial legislation from his Committee. This caused serious delay in enactment of such legislation, modification of it, or, occasionally, defeat.
But Powell's political style was also compounded of personal ingredients. Though Adam by Adam fails to grapple with these in a coherent fashion, it offers morsels of insight. First, Powell is a man of more than usual vanity—evidence of which is plentiful in this autobiography—and the demagogic political style seems endemic to that characteristic. Powell appears, in fact, to consider himself a savior to the politically weak and poor Negro masses; though he often affected this posture merely as a political technique, exploiting the widespread tendency of the black lower classes to elevate political leaders to messianic status on many occasions. Powell seems to have internalized a messiah complex.
Furthermore, Powell relates in the autobiography how he suffered throughout boyhood and young manhood a gnawing urge to find an area of legitimate activity in which he could match the professional success of his father. The resort to politics by such men is not uncommon. In one of its aspects, politics, according to Talcott Parsons, is functionally diffuse, requiring few specialized resources; thus men with Powell's need to achieve and his charismatic talents pursue politics almost naturally.
But the personal sources of Powell's political style extend even further. Throughout the autobiography he describes a deep-seated, often manic, need to deviate from expected behavior. Politics affords more opportunity for fulfillment for such an impulse than other avocations. Politics also has pitfalls and booby-traps for those who would use it this way, but reject the discipline inherent in the unique reciprocity of the political process.
Powell, alas, never comprehended the kind of discipline that is basic to politics. The result was preordained: Powell, after 22 years in Congress, was stripped of his committee chairmanship by his white peers—motivated by a combination of white racism and perturbance at his political style. He would have been unseated had not the Supreme Court reinstated him.
In 1970, after nearly 30 years in Congress, Powell was defeated for re-election by a Negro member of the New York State Assembly, Charles Rangel. Predictably, nowhere in the autobiography does Powell seriously analyze his defeat. Like other political messiahs, Powell is above rigorous political analysis. If he clings to this perspective, we have certainly seen the last of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the first United States Congressman from Harlem.
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 Powell's younger days was decidedly hat-in-hand and Powell's was not. He is less persuasive describing his other role: as a Baptist minister, his theology seems to boil down to "as you like it." He is a strikingly good describer of all sorts of places and people—Harlem in his childhood, Fidel Castro at the moment he came to power.
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."
Unfortunately, Adam does not "let it all hang out"; [Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.] is a dud, an evasive, well-packaged ball of fluff reminiscent of the traditional campaign biographies that fill the bookstores every four years. At first glance, it might easily be dismissed as a common attempt by a public figure to exploit his own name for profit. But a more ticklish problem arises: If taken seriously, Adam by Adam may well insure Powell's future anonymity—a fate he neither wants nor deserves.
Though essentially a monument to Powell's enormous ego, this autobiography is lacking both in candor and self analysis. We learn at the very outset, for example, that his decision to enter the ministry was a product of divine intervention; the fact that he would inherit, from his father, America's most prestigious black congregation had little to do with it. "One particular night … in 1930," he writes, "I was working late at my desk in my room [at Colgate University]…. Suddenly there came a voice …: 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?' And there in that room in that quiet, for the first time in my life God talked to me…. And ever since, in every way, I've tried to maintain an awareness so that this voice would always be heard."
As a young pastor at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Powell became renowned for his flamboyant attempts to combat poverty, inferior housing, and job discrimination in Harlem. His successes are amply documented: free soup kitchens in the church gymnasium, well-organized rent strikes, mass marches to city hall calling for reforms at Harlem Hospital. But what motivated Powell? What suddenly increased his sensitivity to the suffering around him? The answer is quite simple: Adam, like Moses, had been chosen to lead his people out of the wilderness:
One night early in 1930 there came a knock at [my] door…. there stood five of the outstanding doctors of the Harlem community…. "We need you, a flaming tongue, to fight our battle" [they said]….
"What can I do?" I asked….
Dr. Vincent urged, "You have got to be what Clarence Darrow said Mayor John P. Altgeld of Chicago was to the maimed and beaten, the sightless and voiceless! The eyes and ears, and a flaming tongue crying in the wilderness for kindness and humanity and understanding."
… something had happened to me. The people of the streets, the failures, the misfits, the despised, the maimed, the beaten, the sightless and the voiceless had made a captive of me … and I was to know no other love but these people.
But what of the other Powell? Where is the man who showed up on the picket line long enough to get his picture snapped by the news photographers and then took off; the man who stole the headlines by holding a lone vigil against discriminatory hiring in Harlem after local employers and civic groups had reached a fair settlement; the man who took so much credit for other people's work that Negro reporters in the 1930s dubbed him "the NAAACP"—the National Association for the Advancement of Adam Clayton Powell? By hiding him away, the book loses far more than it gains—mainly the very qualities that made Adam human.
Powell's accomplishments, substantial as they are, seem always in need of embellishment. We learn that it was Adam who guided every major piece of civil rights legislation through Congress for the past three decades; who insured the appointment of black youths to West Point and Annapolis; who personally convinced Adlai Stevenson to strengthen the Democratic party's civil rights plank in 1952; who attended the Bandung Conference of Asian and African nations in 1955, against the wishes of President Eisenhower and the State Department, and personally kept them from going over to the Communist side. Adam also gave "an unknown newcomer to Montgomery named Martin Luther King Jr." all the details for his successful bus boycott in 1956; he talked Fidel Castro into discontinuing his public trials and stopping all executions; he straightened out Malcolm X on the true Muslimism.
The list is endless, as Powell advises Presidents, confers with foreign leaders, inspires a lethargic Congress, or unites a badly fragmented black community. No one, but no one, upstages Adam Powell.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is Powell's failure to understand the reasons for his final political defeat. He devotes less than two paragraphs to it, concluding only that the election was rigged. "Just a rough count showed that my opponent had received over twelve hundred ineligible votes—Republican, Liberal, Conservative; even twenty seven dead men had faithfully cast their votes for Rangel. We uncovered over twelve hundred votes that should not have been counted. And I had lost by only a hundred and fifty votes."
Yet there was more, so much more. As Richard Levine noted in "The End of the Politics of Pleasure" (Harper's, April 1971), Adam Powell represented something that black people desperately wanted in the 1940s and 1950s, but something they could ill afford by the late 1960s. He was, in short, the "baddest Nigger of them all," a man through whom millions of blacks lived the vicarious experience of the American dream.
"He became a legend in his time," wrote Levine, "because he so completely expressed the black man's fundamental ambivalence toward white America, the desire to imitate and defy it at once. Powell looked like a white man, yet he lived, not just as a black man, but as the black boogeyman of America's racial nightmare: untrustworthy, lazy, spendthrift, and sexually profligate. Middle-class Negroes lived comfortably as a reward for good behavior; Powell lived in grand style despite the most outrageous behavior, and seemed invulnerable to punishment."
By 1968, however, as issues like urban decay and community control took hold in the black ghettoes, Adam Powell was viewed as something of a liability. His arrogance toward the white community was still understood and respected; but his irresponsibility, his neglect of congressional duties, became more visible with each day spent on the beaches of Bimini. In a pathetic attempt to keep in step with the growing militance of his constituency, Powell began to pepper his rhetoric with ugly slurs against "Weak-kneed" Wilkins, "Whitey" Young, and Martin "Loser" King; he invited Black Panthers and Mau Maus to speak from his pulpit at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Mere theatrics were not enough. Harlem now needed a dedicated, no-nonsense political leader capable of dealing effectively with its massive social and economic problems. Old Adam was simply not the man for the job.
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 Abyssinian's parishioners and the episodic band of local activists he associated with, now would have his words coming to them on a regular basis. Clearly, after only six active years out of college, he was becoming one of the identifiable young leaders in a community seething with social controversy and suffering from no lack of self-appointed and organized groups claiming to point the way for the residents to alleviate their problems. Harlem had two community weeklies in addition to the nationally oriented Pittsburgh Courier to bring them news and commentary on race issues. There were innumerable social clubs, lodges, and fraternities, along with countless church-affiliated clubs. In good weather, the streets were lined with soapbox speakers holding forth on political, racial, and assorted other issues day and evening. The economic depression continued to take its toll, leaving the community a mixture of pathos and pain to go along with the night-life pleasures characteristic of the "Negro Renaissance" of the 1920s.
Powell was in the middle of this melange as preacher, pundit, and political activist, while, of course, maintaining his reputation as playboy. He gave every indication of thoroughly enjoying himself in each role.
The editor of the Amsterdam News introduced the new columnist as one whose "liberal column will cover a wide range of social and economic subjects." And Powell proceeded exactly in that fashion. He attacked the New Deal in caustic, witty, critical terms, suggesting to President Roosevelt and his advisers that the way to balance the budget was by becoming Negroes and trying to live off the relief rolls. Give "house rent parties on Saturday nights," serve "chitterlings and pig feet," buy clothes and furniture on the installment plan. Forget about decent housing or good schools or trying to get a WPA job.
If you protest you will be called a Communist. You'll spend your pennies in stores that have one Negro employee at inferior wages in the front, and all the rest white.
… You'll ride on subways and busses and never see a Negro employee. In other words, you'll be black. But the Budget will be balanced.
"My country 'tis of thee"
Hurrah for America.
"Land of the free and home of the brave."
He was critical of his fellow Harlemites for spending too much time talking—"gum-beating"—and not enough time acting against discrimination. His columns were a mixture of street slang and Baptist preacher homily. He had nothing good to say of the mayor, whom he frequently identified only as the "Little Flower" (an affectionate term when used by some, but clearly intended by Powell to be dismissive) and not caring about the fate of blacks: "… the Little Flower has thoroughly wilted. A consistent strike-breaker and foe of labor in general, La Guardia has further distinguished himself as just a 'campaign friend' of the Negro" [Amsterdam News, 6 June 1936].
He never lost an opportunity to point up the discrepancy between the ideal language of the American Constitution and the reality of American social and economic conditions. [He wrote in the 11 July 1936 issue of the Amsterdam News:] "The most liberal written documents of human history are the French and American constitutions, yet we know today they could not pass as such." And in an open letter to Republican congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., of New York, he wrote: "Yes, the constitution may well be the civil bible, but it is lived up to about the same as the majority of white Christians live up to the Holy Bible….
Brother, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments were scrapped long ago. They were scrapped when the first black vote was refused at the poll, when the first colored person was kicked out of a white restaurant, when the first jim crow car was built, when the first Negro woman was raped by a white assailant who went unpunished and when the first brown boy was burned at the stake like a piece of barbecue. [Amsterdam News, 2 March 1936]
When he took vacations for several weeks at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, his mood seemed to change to match the relaxed, serene environment, and he wrote more laughingly, less bitterly, about the quiet idyllic life where jaybirds chirping were considered too noisy. Not bothered by the obvious contrast in life-styles between himself and most of his Harlem readers, he wrote of escaping from the noise and congestion of the city. In taunting delight, he sent one piece back to his readers [on the 1 August 1936 issue of the Amsterdam News]: "I sneak down to the harbor each day and row out a couple of miles into the ocean. After anchoring, with an evil leer on my face, I let out two good Baptist shouts and thereupon sing, 'I'se a Muggin' at the top of my voice and to my heart's content."
He must have known that many of his readers back home were grinning and shaking their heads in vicarious glee at Adam Powell at play.
One theme in his early columns emerged clear and often. He was an advocate of the political left, and he took great care in telling his readers that what was needed was an alliance of all poor people—black and white. Keenly aware of the political ideological disputes ringing from the street-corner speakers, he decidedly came down against the black nationalists:
It would be foolish and ignorant to try to prove that even the majority of Southerners are sympathetic toward the Negro, but I do say, remove the unemployment, the substandard wages, the inhuman hours and in one generation a new attitude will be evidenced toward the Negro…. We've got to stop this blind hatred toward all whites. Our future will be decided not by ourselves, but by a union of all working class forces, white and black. Blind hatred will ultimately destroy only those who hate. [Amsterdam News, 30 May 1936]
He condemned those Negroes who considered all Italian Americans as followers of Mussolini, and who destroyed the property of Italian store owners in Harlem. "Just like we think all Southerners are lynchers, so we believe all Italians in America are Fascists…. There is a strong Italian anti-Fascist organization right here in New York."
"Capitalist oppression" was the evil, he asserted. Blacks had to go into the trade unions and work with their fellow white workers. Eschewing labels of party and race, he urged:
Party labels no longer mean anything. There is no such thing as Democratic, Republican, Communist and Socialist parties…. Boys and girls, political party days are over. All groups are rapidly concentrating at the two opposite poles—Laborers and Leisurers…. We must go left with the laborers. We must cast our voting power to those who offer the laboring class most. [Amsterdam News, 5 May 1936]
As could be expected, the outspoken young minister would not spare his own profession—the ministry. There was too much trivia and irrelevancy, he warned, in the black churches, especially coming from the preachers. The mass of churchgoers, he concluded, especially the younger ones, were much more interested in a civic-minded church, one that organized against community ills. [He wrote in the 4 April 1936 edition of the Amsterdam News:] "Harlem has sixty-eight churches, excluding the fly-by-nighters. You can count on your fingers all of them that are worth keeping open." A few months later, he wrote [in the 5 September issue of the Amsterdam News]: "Our ministry is composed of a bunch of spiritual sissies. The hour has struck also for a purging of the church. Away with theological twisters, ministerial montebanks, pulpit pounders, clerical clowns. The masses want men who will teach them and lead them into a just way of life."
These were Powell's sentiments on the issues in the mid-to-late 1930s. He was fully on the scene, now, blasting with all the force he felt when the spirit moved him. The social, economic, and political problems of the Harlem community were fully revealed. He was clearly planning to settle in at Abyssinian Baptist Church, leading an active civic life and not letting all his public doings get in the way of a continuingly active social life. With a wife of three years, an adopted son, and multiple community involvements, he prepared to take over as Abyssinian's senior pastor upon the retirement of his father, which would come in 1937.
At that point, Adam, at age twenty-nine, would be in a position to lead one of the largest churches in the country. He had already signaled what kind of leadership he felt that ought to be.