On this day in 1967, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was barred from his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on allegations of corruption and office misconduct. Supporters of the popular New York congressman believed the act was due to his race as well as a ploy to derail Powell’s political power.
Powell, born November 29, 1908 in New Haven, Connecticut, followed in the footsteps of his father, activist and preacher Adam Clayton Powell Sr., yet moved into politics in the mid-40’s en route to a stellar career that stretched nearly three decades. Assuming office officially in 1945, Powell rose quickly, running on the promise of bringing civil rights to Black New Yorkers. He also had the ability to cross the aisle to his Republican counterparts.
Powell’s career was altered by scandal after allegations he misused funds for personal trips and other expenditures, including traveling with two young women. The House overwhelmingly voted to bar him from his seat, prompting his supporters to rally around him and suggest that racism was behind the move. Similar allegations that hovered over white Congress members had never led to a loss of their seat.
In a special election weeks later, Powell regained the seat but instead of returning to Congress, he took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1969, the justices ruled in favor of Powell agreeing that Congress did not have the right to remove Powell from a seat he was voted into. Despite his victory in the courts, Powell quietly left politics and retired to the Bahamas.
In April 1972, Powell died after suffering from prostatitis. He was just 63 years of age. He had two sons who both shared his name, III, who is a notable journalist, and IV, who also became a politician.
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