Newstalgia Reference Room - an interview with Adam Clayton Powell, as conducted on the NBC Public Affairs Program Ask Congress - From December 8, 1957
October 18, 2010

Adam Clayton Powell in 1957. Outspoken critic, all-around firebrand.

I think most people, when asked what they know about Adam Clayton Powell, will probably cite any one of a number of scandals that plagued him later on in his career. But early on, Powell was an outspoken critic of the then-current state of Civil Rights in the country; not only in the South but in the North where he cited numerous instances of hypocrisy. The need for improved education for everyone, a reappraisal of our Foreign Policy and a revamping of our immigration laws.

In the 1950's, Public Affairs programming had an almost saturated high on our airwaves. One of the countless programs offered was one, Ask Congress, a twice monthly program where a member of Congress was asked questions by non-professionals, mostly constituents from the members district. On December 8, 1957 a group of constituents from Powell's district asked the questions. Typical of the questions was this one asked by Lucille Chance of the Harlem Taxpayers Association regarding our policy towards the Caribbean.

Adam Clayton Powell: “Very few people know that on April 22nd of next year (1958) a new nation is going to be 2 hours from Miami. And our Foreign Affairs committees in the House and the Senate haven’t even scheduled hearings on this problem. I believe that we should advance to the new Caribbean Federation, extending from Jamaica to Trinidad as much help as possible and quickly, because they are a brilliant and industrious people and they are now the closest nation to us, next to Cuba.”

Lucille Chance (Pres. Harlem Taxpayers Association): “Would you not think it would be a good gesture to send an American Negro as Ambassador to the Federation?”

Powell: “No. I’m against an American Negro being sent as an Ambassador anywhere because he’s a Negro. I believe that Ambassadors should be sent everywhere because they are qualified. I believe that Negroes should go to say Denmark or some other country if they’re qualified. But I’m against picking Negroes for Negro countries and Whites for White countries because that is a form of segregation.”

Powell eventually became Chairman of the powerful Education and Labor Committee and was responsible for implementing many of JFK's New Frontier and LBJ's Great Society programs. But by the mid-1960s he was mired in scandal and forced to resign in 1967, but kept his seat amid numerous allegations and counter-allegations only to eventually lose his seat in the 1970 election to Charles Rangle.

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