“Once in a lifetime,” that’s how one woman describes Reverend Adam Clayton Powell. “God-sent,” says one man. The truth is, there are a lot of ways you might describe Powell, but there’s no denying he is a giant of US history. In this one-hour documentary, you can get a sense of this singular man and how he changed the lives of those who knew him — and so many more — with a personal life that continued to collide with his public persona.
The highlights of Powell’s career are well-known: minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the first African-American to win a seat to the New York City Council, elected to the House of Representatives in the 1940s, activist, civil rights, campaigner, and more. But the man behind the CV was so much more complex than his list of accomplishments. He was a fierce and fearless campaigner, taking on the Jim Crow laws of the south and lynching.
Called “the most powerful black man in American political history”, he was charismatic, powerful, and, at times, seemed unstoppable. But for all of his inspiration, he was also controversial. Womanizing, a series of marriages, and a penchant for nightclubs formed the precursor for tax evasion inquiries and other scandals. And as Martin Luther King’s popularity began to rise, Powell felt threatened — and would go through any lengths to protect his political career and place as the foremost representative of the African American community.
To begin to understand Powell, this man of contradictions, you can see the whole video here:
Adam Clayton Powell is a man of complexities, who evokes ambivalence. How is the great work he did affected by his personal life — or his brutal streak? No matter where you fall, there’s no doubt that he was a unique figure on the American political landscape.