by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
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Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 264pp.
Publisher: Carol Publishing Group
Pub. Date: September 1994
Edition Desc: 1st Carol Publishing Group ed
Reviewed by Thumper, AALBC.com
’Never let anyone keep you contained and never let anyone keep your voice silent.’
-Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. to a young Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
If I were to ask you to name the person who led the first non-violent civil rights demonstration in the United States, would you know the answer?
With the increase of publishing imprints geared toward the recent African-American reading audience, books will be published, many re-published that would not have had this opportunity 10, 5, or even 2 years ago. One of the books that will seek to find a new audience of readers is Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., published under the Dafina imprint of Kensington Publishing Company. Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. happens to be a most interesting and insightful autobiography of a man who threw a curve in American politics and should be recognize as one of the leading figures in American history of the 20th century.
In Adam by Adam, Powell addresses the high points of an amazing life from his birth, the son of a nationally renowned preacher to becoming one of the few African-American Congressmen in the early portion of the 20th century. Powell’s life unfolds as a captivating history lesson. American political history told from an unacknowledged perspective, that of an African-American man close to the fire. The autobiography reads like a Who's Who of American history and offers a behind-the-curtain glimpse of the drama that occurred during many significant events in Powell's 40-year career. Here is a life that should be a prime-time television series!
I didn't know who Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was, or the historical significance that he garnered during his life, or afterward. Powell was, at best, a footnote that I paid little to no attention. My ignorance of Powell’s existence, his contributions and accomplishments was complete; so much so, I kid you not, that when I finally got the book in my hands, I looked at the cover, I thought, whose da white man? I know that sounds hick-ish, but there it is. I should be ashamed and I am.
There is no greater soap opera in the world than politics. Politics has all the essential elements of a soap opera: backstabbing, lying, sex, ambition, the wielding of power. American politics is my soap opera of choice and in this world, Powell had to bob and weave with the best, an instant hero, and the real life version of the knight in shining armor. In the beginning, I took Powell as being arrogant constantly performing the vocal warm up exercise ’I, I, I, me, me, me’. By the time I reached the mid-point of the book, I couldn't hold my previously misperceived characterization against Powell. The battles Powell had to fight would have killed a man that did not possess the high degree of self-confident and faith that Powell had.
The first and last chapters of Adam by Adam, Powell focused on his personal life: his family history, childhood, attending an all-white college. On his later personal life, Powell was sketchy at best. The reason could be that Powell was a gentleman, a true old-school gentleman. A gentleman does not kiss and tell. My respect and admiration, that Powell earned during the reading of the book, would have been lost if he had kissed and told. Frankly, I was wholly satisfied with the focal point remaining on Powell's career.
The crown jewel of the book is Powell's political career, which is sandwiched in the middle of Adam by Adam. Powell's career is nothing short of fantastic. I was mesmerized. In his political career, with the unwavering quest of civil rights for black folk, lies the heart and soul of Powell. Powell conveyed events that I had not previously read about or heard of before, some examples: Powell's campaigning for Eisenhower's 1956 presidential re-election; the Brandung Conference; Powell's relationships with Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy and Johnson. Important is Powell's role in many of the civil rights laws and actions that would not have taken place in his absence and the price he paid for being a man of his conviction.
In the last chapter, Black Power and the Future of Black America, Powell’s insights and proposals are so eerily accurate and on-point, it's scary. Powell outlines 15 points Black America should adhere to in order to become strong. Other people, folks who at the time of Adam by Adam initial publication, 1971, hadn’t reached their teenage years, are saying these same points today. Maybe we, as one of the then future generations, will finally take heed.
Due to Powell's forthrightness, I couldn't help but notice the historical events, the landmarks of the civil right movement that Powell did not elaborate on; the death of Emmet Tell and its aftermath, the bombing of the Montgomery church, the admission of African-Americans into previously all white schools and universities after the 1954 Brown versus The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis. I am left to wonder why; was it an oversight, was it sacrificed to the editor's trashcan, or did he not discuss the events because he played no role in the actions?
Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. serves as an introduction to a man that changed the landscape of American society. Thirty years after it's initial publication Adam by Adam still holds the power to captivate.