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The Special Election of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York

April 11, 1967
The Special Election of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York Image courtesy of Library of Congress Once asked to describe his political career, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York said, “As a member of Congress, I have done nothing more than any other member and, by the grace of God, I intend to do not one bit less.”
On this date, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York won the special election to fill the vacancy caused by his exclusion from the House. As the first African American to represent New York in Congress and only the fourth black Member elected during the 20th century, Powell, an unapologetic activist, relished his position as a congressional irritant and national spokesperson for civil rights. Never one to shun the national spotlight, Powell also made headlines for his flamboyant style. His alleged misuse of congressional funds, criminal contempt in a widely publicized slander case, unpredictable antics, and erratic attendance, led the House Democratic Caucus to strip Powell of his chairmanship of the Education and Labor Committee on January 9, 1967. The full House refused to seat him until the Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Emanuel Celler of New York, completed an investigation of the allegations against the New York Representative. Ultimately the committee recommended that Powell be censured, fined, and deprived of seniority, but on March 1, 1967, the House rejected this proposal and voted—307 to 116—to exclude him from the 90th Congress (1967–1969). Unimpressed by the House’s mandate to ban their Representative, Harlem voters sent Congress a resounding message when they overwhelmingly re-elected Powell with 86 percent of the vote the following month. Powell, who resided in the Bahamas during the election, opted not to take his seat during the 90th Congress. Vindicated by the 1969 Supreme Court decision that the House acted unconstitutionally by excluding him from Congress, Powell remarked, “From now on, America will know the Supreme Court is the place where you can get justice.”

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