BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Charles Hamilton, author of the book, "Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: Political Biography of an American Dilemma." Who was Mr. Powell?
CHARLES HAMILTON, AUTHOR, "ADAM CLAYTON POWELL JR.: POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN DILEMMA": Many people. And that was the intriguing aspect of him. He was a civil rights leader; he was a congressman; he was a preacher; he was a playboy. He was terribly controversial throughout his career, and when we say this about other people that "people are many different kinds and types" it was really true with him. And I had both fun and frustration trying to answer that one question, "Who was this man?"
LAMB: Why did you write it?
HAMILTON: Well, a number of reasons. I'm a political scientist, and I am a political scientist who specializes in race and politics in the United States. He was a fellow who, for about 30 years, was one of the more important and interesting figures on the American political scene, locally and nationally. And not much was known about him. And so I wanted to make sure that I could capture that career, with all of its controversies and dynamism, before too long. He's been dead now for almost 20 years. My students around the country and at Columbia have very faint memories of him.
And I thought, "That's unacceptable." So I began my first interview -- he died in '72, April. My first interview was in December of '72. I put it down. And then I picked it up again about four or five years ago and decided, "This is unacceptable. I must do this book," really, to fill in the record, check the gaps, and that's the reason I did it. And, plus, given the nature of this fellow, going back to your first question, it was a challenge. I admired him, and I was frustrated with him. And those two emotions continued throughout the entire research and writing of the book.
LAMB: Where are you now?
HAMILTON: Where am I in the sense of...
HAMILTON: I'm on the faculty at Columbia University. I teach political science in the department of political science there. And I've been there now for about -- I shouldn't be so imprecise. I should know exactly how long. I've been there for 21 years, 22 years right there, not next door, but in Harlem, and have gotten a chance, both professionally and personally, to learn that terrain, which spawned Adam Clayton Powell, and so my writing the book was -- to me, professionally, a natural. That also contributed to my interest, quite frankly; got to know an awful lot of the people who worked with him, worked against him, and got to know, to a certain extent, that community and the church -- the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which was fundamentally important to his career.
LAMB: He was born where?
HAMILTON: He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and bred in Harlem. He was born in one place, bred in another -- bred, meaning that started six months or so after he was born. His family moved to New York, and his father took over Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1909. But he was born in 1908. So he's really a child of Harlem, but equally as important, he's a child of privilege and a child who was terribly pampered in a time when few people -- black or white -- in this country had much in the way of resources. He had a nanny -- a black family. He always grew up at a very comfortable circumstance. He never had a day of poverty, want, in his life growing up in Harlem. They dressed him in Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. This was a very intriguing background, you know, then and now, for that kind of fellow.
LAMB: One of the things that you say played a role in his life -- and here's a
picture of him -- is that he was mistaken at different times for being a white man.
HAMILTON: Oh, absolutely. If he were to walk in here now and you and I didn't know it, he'd have to tell us he was black, because he looked white. Absolutely -- his whole family. And for a long time -- now strike -- not for a long time, but for a while, he passed for white, to use the lexicon of that process. He passed for white when he was in college at Colgate University. He pledged a white fraternity. He lived in a white dormitory. He was found out by the fraternity when they investigated his background.
As far as I can tell, from that point on, he never crossed that line -- or attempted to cross that racial line. His sister, however, about eight to 10 years older than he, did pass for white in the 1920s when she worked on Wall Street in a secretarial job. That was not an uncommon phenomenon for people of his complexion, then and, I assume, now, but his father was quite white-looking, and his whole family. And it's also clear that, while they did not deny their racial identity, there were times when they would go on summer vacations, go to the South. They loved fishing. His father and he loved fishing. They would take the train south. Your listeners may be too young to know that at times, after you came to a certain point on the Mason-Dixon Line, they separated the races -- colored in this place, white here. They never moved, and no one ever questioned them, and they never called it to their attention. So there was always this subtle aspect of passing, you see, that it was a kind of game that people played then, which I'm going to suggest, and I suggest in the book, also, I think contributed to his cynicism.
LAMB: He was in Congress for how long?
HAMILTON: He went to Congress in 1945, elected in '44, sworn in in '45, stayed till '67, at which point they excluded him, came back in '69. Supreme Court ruled that his exclusion was unconstitutional. So then he was in there from '45 to '67 and then from '69 to '70.
LAMB: Charlie Rangel, the congressman.
HAMILTON: Defeated him in 1970 in a tight race, a primary race in Harlem. Now Powell is no longer chair of a major committee, no longer having had his seniority. He was stripped of his seniority. He was denied full pay because the Congress had exacted $25,000 from his pay to pay back some funds he'd misused. And, of course, in those last years, say from '66 on -- '67 on, he was dying of cancer. And his absentee record was abysmal -- always had been -- but it was also clear, in the last few years of his time, he no longer had the energy.
LAMB: When was he the most powerful?
HAMILTON: He was the most powerful in Congress from January 1961 to September 1966 when he was chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. He had, during that period, what no other African-American politician ever had. He had institutional power. He was chair of a major substantive committee. The House Education and Labor Committee -- keep in mind when we're talking, 1960s -- was the committee that handled roughly 40 percent of the domestic legislation of the United States, and look when they're talking about the period of the new frontier and the Great Society. When LBJ, especially, as president, was churning out all that legislation -- Medicare, elementary and secondary education, OEO, National Defense Education Act -- all that legislation came through his committee. And he was the chair of that committee, and for that period, I would say he ran a good ship, he was by most accounts, an effective chairperson, and I'm talking about accounts from not just his staff and his friends, which you would expect, but from people on his committee. John Brademas, for instance, Frank Thompson, you know, people on the...
LAMB: Former congressmen.
HAMILTON: Former congressmen. And his chairmanship was really very good. He delegated authority to people -- Edith Green, whom he didn't like, but was also on his committee. He had a superb staff, incidentally -- particularly a committee staff. And this was very important because he needed it. He needed that good staff to cover him, you see, and he was a very effective and substantive person during that period.
LAMB: How often did you talk with him?
HAMILTON: That's a very interesting story. I had three contacts with Adam Clayton Powell, and I spoke to him twice. The first contact, if I can do this very briefly, because it's the most exciting part of my personal saga with the man, came when I was -- and I'd like to say this -- a young 19-year-old recruit in the Army. It was in 1949. I was in Camp Hood, Texas, and I was down from Chicago, and Mr. Truman had just issued orders desegregating the military. Well, I, as a Negro -- and I like to use the lexicon of the times. It helps your listeners understand the atmosphere -- I couldn't use the darkroom, the photographic facilities, except during limited periods of time: Sunday mornings, 6:00 to 11:00. I wrote to Adam Clayton Powell. Now keep in mind, I'm from Chicago. My congressman was a black congressman, William L. Dawson. I didn't write to him. I didn't write to him because I didn't think I'd get an answer. I wrote to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell from Harlem. I didn't hear from him. I didn't hear from him. About three weeks later, my company commander called me in and said, "You should be careful about rabble-rousers you're corresponding with. Do you know that Adam -- this congressman you wrote to -- called Mrs. Truman, the president's wife "the last lady of the land" because she had refused to turn down an invitation to the Daughters of American Revolution, which had just excluded Powell's wife, Hazel Scott, from performing in Constitution Hall. So Adam called her the last lady of the land.
My company commander says, "That's not the kind of person you'd want to correspond with. This is a rabble-rouser, troublemaker, disrespectful." I looked on the desk, and there was a letter, a memo from the Department of the Army.Now I was standing at attention. Remember this, now. I was in the Army. Right under that was a letter from Adam Powell to the Department of the Army. So he said, "Now if you have any problems," the company commander said, "with this man's army, you come to us," you know? "Now you can go ahead and use the darkroom anytime you want to use it," you know. Fine. That was the first time. I never heard from Adam, but he and I got the results.
The second time was 10 years later. I was then a professor. I've already promoted myself. I was an assistant professor at a very major black college in Alabama -- Tuskegee. And I was very involved in voter registration and so forth. So we wanted several senators and congresspeople to introduce a bill. So we had Powell on that list. I had an occasion to talk to him on the phone then. First time I ever talked to him -- still hadn't met him. Third and last time, now I am a professor at Columbia. I'd just gone to Columbia. It's now 1970. He and I were invited to appear at a major civil rights rally in Cleveland. Two main speakers. Well, he was now running for re-election against Charlie Rangel. Now it's very clear, also, he's dying of cancer. And he's not spending much time back in the district. He had five opponents. Rangel was just one of them. And that was ideal for him. That was the first time I'd really met him, and we were sitting up late one night in his hotel room, and I said, "Mr. Congressman, shouldn't you be back in the district? I hear this is a close race." He looked at me incredulously. He said, "I can't lose. They'll vote for me, because they'll remember how effective I was." Well, as a matter of fact, he was. So that was the only time I ever met him, second time I'd spoken to him, the third time I'd been in contact with him. So I didn't really know him, you know. I really did not know him personally, except for those instances.
LAMB: I remember him well in my young life here in this town. I've got a picture that I picked out. It seemed to me to say a lot, and I want to ask you if it's fair.
It's this picture right here.
HAMILTON: The one with the cigarillo, the smoking?
LAMB: Right here.
HAMILTON: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: It says, "I can remember him standing at microphones and testifying and having news conferences ..."
LAMB: "... and he would use that cigarillo and blow smoke."
HAMILTON: Absolutely. The quintessential, arrogant person: self- confident, absolutely unfazed in his public persona. That's Adam Powell. Yes.
LAMB: Where's this picture from?
HAMILTON: The one on the left? This picture is outside Abyssinian Baptist Church; he's now pretty much on his last leg. The young lady on the left was his companion at that time, and you could tell he was not the Adam of old there.
LAMB: Women played a large role in his life.
HAMILTON: Absolutely. By his own -- -can't say admission -- by his own account, yes.
LAMB: How many times was he married?
HAMILTON: He was married three times. He was married three times, and each marriage had a particular flair about it, distinction about it.
LAMB: This was his third wife?
HAMILTON: That's his third wife -- from Puerto Rico, incidentally, yes. And the young son, interestingly enough, Adam Clayton Powell IV, was just elected to the City Council of New York in the footsteps of his father last month, in October. That's Adam Clayton Powell IV representing a district in East Harlem.
LAMB: Adam Clayton Powell III ...
HAMILTON: Was the son of Adam -- of the congressman and Hazel Scott.
LAMB: And I know he's been here on this network recently when he was ...
HAMILTON: Yes. He's in the media. He's in journalism, yes. And apparently has no interest in the political realm.
LAMB: When you talk about the -- and we'll get to the best side -- when you talk about the worst side of Adam Clayton Powell, what was it?
HAMILTON: Well, that's interesting. And I appreciate the distinction. Adam Powell would never admit having a worst side. Oh, well, look, but you and I can talk about it. You said the worst side. Clearly, the rather careless disregard for certain things, like misuse of committee funds. That was in the record. And there was no doubt of that. Some of his personal activities -- by his own admission now, the way he disregarded the court warrants against him and a libel suit against him in Harlem.
He says, "I was inattentive. I was neglectful on that. That was not good." I would also suggest that his absentee record, which a lot of us excused at the time, worked against him. And then finally, the part that I found to be as intriguing -- some people might not say -- was from friend and foe, they simply felt they couldn't trust the man. He would enter into a deal, and then you'd find out you didn't have a deal. He was a very complex fellow in that regard, and I think one of the aspects of this book that I try not tiptoe through, but try to point up is that we're not talking here about a saint, and neither, I think, are we talking about a sinner. We're talking about a complex politician who had some very, very serious negatives about him that people didn't like.
LAMB: Who's this?
HAMILTON: That's Hazel Scott, his second wife, and that, the little baby is Adam Clayton Powell III. That's the one we mentioned just earlier.
LAMB: Did he know, when he was doing all these things that were bad or we characterize as bad ...
HAMILTON: You and I would call them negative.
LAMB: Yes. Right. Negative.
HAMILTON: He would say, "Define that," but go ahead.
LAMB: But did he know that -- did he do it on purpose?
HAMILTON: I don't think -- no. I think he understood clearly -- and the evidence is throughout the book there -- what he was doing. And I think he understood that it was somewhat self-destructive, but it was so much a part of him that I don't think he even ... Yes, he knew it. But even if his definition would be somewhat different from yours and mine, he knew that having his wife on the payroll when she wasn't doing any work. He knew that that was not proper. He also excused it by saying he wasn't the only one. He knew that -- and the record is clear -- that using airline tickets inappropriately for staff -- he knew that. Whatever else he was, he was not a dumb man. Of course he knew that.
Another aspect of him, though, was he was a fellow who had never, as far as I could tell, been denied anything that he really wanted. And that's not an inconsequential aspect of understanding a person's makeup. You know, I'm not a psychologist, and I purposely don't go into that, but it was so much a part of him -- the persona, the lifestyle -- that even if he had known it and even if he had defined it the way you and I are now talking about it, I suspect it wouldn't make that much difference to him, you see. What you and I might call and others have called arrogance, he would call self-confidence. Incidentally, what some people called reckless behavior with women, with funds, he would say, "I'm not a hypocrite."
And most of the time, he could turn -- and I'm not going to sit here and question whether he was rationalizing or not, but he could turn what some people would call negatives into positives, you know. And that was very important in the sense of trying to understand who this terribly complex political figure was. Plus, and I must say this, the subtitle of the book, "The Political Biography of an American Dilemma." I had great fun with that one. His main issue throughout his career was civil rights and economic justice. And he always knew that he had those two issues going for him, and he came home to those issues and he brought them home always to the pulpit of Abyssinian Baptist Church. And whenever he was under attack for these negatives, for these faults, for these bad qualities, he could say, "That's why they're doing it, because I am such a forceful champion of civil rights. That's why they're out to get me."
LAMB: What was he like in the pulpit?
HAMILTON: I want to use words that are very descriptive and not hyperbole: dynamic, unheralded, excellent orator, excellent preacher, yeah, but like a lot of Baptist preachers, you know, could take a text and weave it into either a religious theme or a political theme; captured the parishioners emotionally and in every other way, in a very superb manner. No, he was a very, very -- by all accounts; I've never heard anything negative in that regard -- a superb preacher. And this was, you know, one of the major churches, too. It's a very impressive congregation.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
HAMILTON: Oh, I grew up in South Side Chicago.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
HAMILTON: In Chicago from the elementary through the Ph.D at the University of Chicago.
LAMB: Roosevelt University?
HAMILTON: Roosevelt University, major downtown working-class university; late '40s with a BA, then went to Loyola Law School, then went to University of Chicago. Just, you know, the regular, normal ...
LAMB: Did you live a normal ...
HAMILTON: Yeah. The regular old normal -- worked at the Post Office at night, -- nothing unusual.
LAMB: Parents -- what did they do?
HAMILTON: Working class; didn't go to college. My brother and sister and I are first-generation college in our family.
LAMB: What got you interested in education and so much education?
HAMILTON: It was the only way out. It was only upward mobility. Keep in mind, we're talking about the '40s -- '30s, '40s, '50s. It was the normal way, you know. Unlike most Americans, I didn't have a big heritage, a legacy of money from my family. And so you sought the educational routes, nothing complicated about that. And so I might have overdone it a little bit, you know, but it was fun.
LAMB: So you got an undergraduate degree in ...?
HAMILTON: Political science.
LAMB: A master's degree?
HAMILTON: Political science.
LAMB: A Ph.D?
HAMILTON: Political science.
LAMB: And a law degree.
HAMILTON: Yeah. Took a little time, but, you know, real normal kind of workaday world.
LAMB: Your parents originally from Chicago?
HAMILTON: No, no, no. Father, Louisiana; mother, Texas. And they were part -- we were part of that -- they divorced, but we were part of that -- I was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, 10 days before the crash, October 19, 1929. And we were part -- you know, part of the Okies went west, you know -- "Grapes of Wrath." The other part went north. We were part of that Depression migration that went north. And so we landed in Chicago in the mid-'30s, depths of the Depression. Incidentally, I must say, I see you're on a -- but just mentioned Adam Powell and his background -- Depression -- Right? -- '29, '30 -- to give you and your audience a little indication of the privileged nature of this man, so his biographer is not in the same category. I think that's developed rather clear now. When he graduated from Colgate in June of 1930, pretty bad times, his parents sent him on a three-month cruise to the Mediterranean. OK. Now we can get back to the poverty stories.
LAMB: Do you think that if he were here today and you could spend an extended amount of time with him, that you'd like him?
HAMILTON: Oh, no question, because I have developed, very honestly, the capacity to segregate, if I may use that loaded language. I could see Powell the politician, Powell the public person, from Powell the private or personal character. And I would have the same frustrations with him in person that I had in writing the book. I would love to spend evenings with him. I would not be a big social buddy of his, no. I don't think many people were, incidentally. And not for any reason or choice of mine, but I think that was his -- I don't think he particular -- but I would be able to like him and be frustrated by him. And I think, incidentally, he would like that, because I think he liked keeping everybody off-balance. It was part of his nature.
LAMB: By the way, back to your schooling for a while. How did you get yourself through all that?
HAMILTON: I worked.
LAMB: All the time.
LAMB: Post Office.
HAMILTON: Or light factory, but mostly Post Office, yeah. Sure. Worked nights, but at the P.O. Eudora Welty has this superb short story, "How I Came To Live at the P.O." How I came to work at the P.O., of course. And that when I was going to school, I wasn't the only one, you know. I'd love to sit here and say, "I'm the only" -- of course, we all did that, many of us. And we'd leave school and say, "Well, where are you going?" "Well, I'm going to the office, the Post Office." "Sure, you are." You worked nights and it was a good way to do it because at that time you could work four hours a night or eight hours -- you know, depending on the flow of the mail and so forth, but it was a superb employment base for those of us who were working our way through college. Aand it was decent money. The hours were, you know, steady, and then we could go on full-time in the summer, you know, which was absolutely ... because there was tuition to pay, you know.
LAMB: Five other books besides this one?
HAMILTON: Oh, I think so.
LAMB: "American Government"; "The Black Preacher in America"...
HAMILTON: Textbook. "Black Preacher in America."
LAMB: "Black Experience in American Politics."
HAMILTON: That was an edited book, but yeah, that's a book.
LAMB: "The Bench and the Ballot."
HAMILTON: And "Black Power."
LAMB: That's the one I want to ask you about. "Black Power" with Stokely Carmichael.
HAMILTON: That's five. Go ahead.
LAMB: "Black Power" with Stokely Carmichael.
LAMB: You know that when you see "Black Power" that I've got to ask you about Stokely Carmichael.
HAMILTON: Today known as Kwame Toure, he would have you and me know, but, yeah.
LAMB: Do you still talk to Stokely Carmichael?
HAMILTON: Oh, absolutely. When he comes to town, he will call. He's on the lecture circuit, and he splits his time, I think, between here and Africa. Oh, sure, he calls me, and we try to get together. You know, it becomes increasingly difficult, but, sure.
LAMB: What was the book?
HAMILTON: What was the book?
LAMB: What was the message?
HAMILTON: I could sit here and tell you, and I'm going to, but there were so many messages in that concept.
LAMB: What year?
HAMILTON: We're talking now '66, '67. Cities are blowing up -- "Burn, baby, burn," "Get honkies" and so forth. The message in black -- and Stokely Carmichael being one of the, if not, the -- at that moment -- major spokespersons for that concept. So the term had many connotations. The book, however, was surprising to a lot of people because it was not as inflammatory as some people thought. But I keep telling people that the book had one central meaning for me, and it had to do with group cohesion. It had to do with block voting politics, something I was never ashamed of. And there was a phrase in the book that I wish I had put it in the front page and every other page throughout the book: "Before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks."
And that's what "Black Power" was to me. And it still is, and that's why I'm more, I think, an advocate of black power today than I was then, perhaps because I'm more knowledgeable about it. In other words, I see something quite affirmative and positive about group cohesion and not negative. I see the fact that communities can coalesce -- I mean, come together the same way the Irish did in Boston. I remember John Kennedy saying one time you understand his presidency to the extent that you understand he came out of an Irish Catholic base in Boston. I find that to be quite acceptable, and growing up in South Side Chicago, I know about Irish politics and Cook County Democratic Party.
What I was attempting to do in "Black Power" was to say, "Blacks have to get themselves together, then they can enter into coalitions with other groups." What was always on my mind, then and now, is the ultimate attainment of a free and open society. And my problem with that book and subsequently is that I didn't spend enough time explicating that. But I'm not too sure we could have anyway. The cities were blowing up, the Black Panthers were on the scene. Events, events, events were taking over. People were defining black powers, kick whites out of the civil rights movement. Separatism -- that was a big word. That used to drive me up the wall. "Oh, you're a black power advocate. You are a separatist." Yeah, the same way John Kennedy, as an Irish Catholic, was a separatist, you know.
LAMB: Where were you in those years?
HAMILTON: Well, let's see. I was at Lincoln University, black college in Pennsylvania, and then I was at Roosevelt.
LAMB: In Chicago.
HAMILTON: In Chicago. And then I came to Columbia. So we're talking '66 through '70, let us say. I was at those places.
LAMB: There's nobody, I would think, alive during those periods that would be able to forget Stokely Carmichael's stump speech.
HAMILTON: And he became more of a revolutionary after the book, incidentally, during and after the book. You know, Pan Africanists -- oh, there's no question. In fact, in August of '67, a month before the book came out, he was in Havana, Cuba, with Castro, making very, very strong revolutionary statements. And so the evolution of Carmichael didn't quite square in the minds of many people with the language of the book. And so they really brought to the book the subsequent language and imagery of Stokely Carmichael as they were seeing it on the television.
LAMB: How did you two get together?
HAMILTON: We had known each other in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. I was always involved in some way or other, even when I left the South, and voter registration in the South, and I would go back periodically to engage in voter registration, workshops for SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and got to know Stokely and some of the others that way. I was always, though, the professor, you know. They were younger, but I was a little older. And there were several of us who played that kind of quasi-advisory role. Professor Sinclair Drake was one of them. And, you know, you got to know several of them that way, and that's how Carmichael and I got together.
LAMB: Stokely Carmichael left this country and went to Africa.
LAMB: Became a citizen over there?
HAMILTON: I don't know. I don't know. Guinea -- he might have. But I don't know.
LAMB: How would you two, sitting side by side on this stage right here, differ today?
HAMILTON: I suspect he would be more overtly a Pan Africanist. I think he would be much more overtly interested in that kind of struggle. He would be less interested, I think, than I in the intricacies of electoral politics in the United States. I'm still interested in getting people elected to sheriffs and county assessors and mayors and so forth, and I'm interested in liberal progressive democratic politics -- small "d". I think that he would see that as on the periphery of the major, I suspect he would be more interested in the more global aspects of the social struggle, I would think so.
LAMB: Picture in your book on Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; this is Congressman Powell there, and in the middle, Malcolm X.
HAMILTON: Malcolm X.
LAMB: And Dick Gregory.
LAMB: Can you put it all in context? Malcolm X -- why is there so much interest in Malcolm X today?
HAMILTON: Well, that's very interesting. And assassinated in February '65 on the scene -- much shorter time than, say, Powell. I think there was something very dynamic about both his life and death. I think that he was articulating a message that, particularly the earlier part of his life, before the break with the Nation of Islam, that was quite appealing to an awful lot of people, I think. And indeed I believe that -- and I hope I'm not misunderstood here, but I think that there is something very intriguing -- and I hope I'm not misunderstood -- the same with King -- about the dynamic martyr-type way they were killed -- assassination -- snap -- you know, snuffed out like that.
I think there are, you know, all those reasons. He apparently was undergoing transformation after his break with the Nation of Islam. Where was he going? Now remember, we're talking about a year. There is al this interest of -- I just supervised a very interesting Ph.D dissertation on him at Columbia. Very interesting. A lot of attention to that. But Malcolm X's career lends itself to that sort of analysis. It's a very different career, too, than this man. You look long and hard and Malcolm X never registered anybody to vote, never got a piece of legislation through Congress, and yet I would never denigrate his career. But it's a very different impact. And, incidentally, that's what made Powell angry and jealous of those people. Why all this attention to Malcolm? He didn't even lead a march, you know? It's a very interesting aspect of the story of the black struggle. It's what the cameras are turned to. And Powell, at that point -- he was a little bit -- now we're talking early '60s. Even with his power in Congress, he was still a little apprehensive that perhaps this young man, Malcolm X. Fiery speaker.
LAMB: Did you ever hear him?
HAMILTON: Oh, of course. Oh, yes, in his own backyard. Remember, Harlem; not Pittsburgh, not Louisville -- Harlem. But he might rise up to challenge Powell. So all that dynamism and this man who spanned all these years, who saw the evolution of this, the Kings, the Malcolm X's, had a little bit of a time adjusting to it, you know? Because he could see in them his earlier self, because he was the fiery, stomp platform speaker in the '30s and '40s and, indeed, into the '50s. Now new leaders come along: King, Malcolm, many others. And the TV cameras aren't on him. Now where is he? Well, he's in Congress doing very important things -- running committees, getting legislation passed -- liberal, progressive. But that's not where the cameras are.
Where are the cameras? Well, I'll tell you where they are. They're at Lincoln Memorial in August of '63. Well, where was Powell? Well, he was assigned to leading a little congressional delegation to sit off on the platform. The cameras were in Birmingham. Where was Powell when the dogs were jumping -and biting people? Powell was holding a subcommittee meeting or something. Selma, Alabama -- so forth and so forth and so forth. And he was angry because of that. Jealous, jealous. And it was the dynamism of the movement. And so a lot of people said, "Ah, the movement's passing Powell by." He didn't like that.
LAMB: If you put Adam Clayton Powell and Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X and you in a room alone, without these cameras, without me sitting here asking you questions, and you were going over the last 30 years, you can add anybody to that group you want to -- the point of the question is, assuming that you all had the same goal -- improving life for the black citizen -- what worked and what didn't work? Did the fiery speech work? Did it get the right kind of attention? Did the marches -- I mean, analyze it from, you know -- if you're starting out with a campaign in the '60s moving forward and now looking back.
HAMILTON: Interesting question. And let me be very brief by saying, I'll tell you the one thing that I think didn't work, because I'm very eclectic. I think most of those things worked, and most of them were necessary, and most of them were probably unpredictable. The one thing that didn't work, and we should have spent much more time guarding against it, was the injection of the gun. The moment our struggle became associated with the gun -- and I don't mean violence, because most of that struggle was not violent, you know. Most of that struggle was not violence. But violence was heaped on us, not us on -- the moment it became associated -- and I don't mean the rioting either. That was anomic. That was a function of a reaction to an anomic act: Watts, the police arrests and so forth. No, that ran its course, too. I didn't consider that part of the civil rights struggle, but the moment our struggle -- the civil rights movement -- became associated with the gun and we started seeing people walk out of college buildings with rifles, and so forth and so forth and so forth, or walk into state legislative halls with rifles, we were in trouble.
LAMB: Rap Brown?
HAMILTON: Yes. That. And he had other roles, but that one was not a useful one. Yeah. The moment it became associated with that, it was on a downward course. I mean downward course in the sense of a no-win course. Everything else we did -- the marches, the fiery speeches, you know, the challenge of -the uncompromising challenge in '64 at the Democratic Party, Mississippi Democratic Party -- all that, the sit-ins, OK? All that -- civil disobedience -- all that, was positive. We lost control of that, and I think it was all headed in that direction. Let your cameras show that I'm pointing the trajectory "up." But the moment it became associated with the gun -- and all the talk -- and now the fiery speeches and the talk about revolution and -- don't dress it up; I mean, physical revolution -- that's when we turned the corner or whatever metaphor you want to use -- started downhill. That was the detrimental part. That didn't work. No. Everything else, I'm not going to apologize for.
LAMB: Excluding Martin Luther King, and you look back over those years, who were the leaders that you thought had the most positive impact? Some of the
people we've talked about here, but others.
HAMILTON: Oh, sure. Well, some of them were very prominent at the time. If I can just be ad hominem, Fanny Lou Hamer, just a fantastic inspiration, both in Mississippi and the South. And then when she'd testify out of Mississippi, very important civil rights worker with SNCC and so forth. So when she would sing, oh, Lord, you would listen and you would tap your foot -- people like that. Ella Baker, who was just absolutely supportive of SNCC and King. There's a giant. They're not all in that and I'm going to name people who would, at the moment, were at cross purposes with each other for various reasons. There was a giant that just had a book written about him that I think was a superb book. Didn't get enough play.
Clarence Mitchell, who was one of the most effective people in the city of Washington for two decades that I can know, one of the most effective lobbyists. Giant. Oh, you know there are a lot of others. And that's the aspect of the dynamism of this struggle, both in the legal realm and -- you know, obviously, Thurgood Marshall and all those kinds of people -- Jim Farmer of CORE. A lot of times we look back on it now, and a lot of the teaching going on, I think as I look at some of the materials, tends to state our struggle in this contentious dichotomist way: Malcolm vs. Martin, and so forth. Or are they coming together? Or were they headed apart? And so forth. NAACP vs. Student Non-Violent -- and I was a part of a lot of that. I understand that. The Young Turks against the Old Guard -- what that really was was a struggle working itself out.
LAMB: What do you think of this process so far with your book? It's been out a
little bit. You've been doing some shows and interviews. I mean, do you like the
-- when you envisioned the rollout on this, is it going the way you wanted it to?
HAMILTON: What an interesting question. I didn't realize a host would ask that kind of question. Isn't that interesting? I assume I'm not a pro at this. I'm a professor, you know, and the reason it's interesting is it's probably the only time I'll be asked that. You and my publisher assume yes to that question. But -- OK. I think that it's a useful process. That's not an overnight read. I always say to people that "It's not an overnight write and research, so why do you think it has to be an overnight read?" And, you know, it takes time to get through it. I'm trying to make a number of subtle and not-so-subtle points. But I really believe in the subject. And I believe in the product, so I like this up to a point. When I think that I'm not being sufficiently articulate to make the points I wanted to make, then I get angry with myself. But if I took time to research and write the book and tried to get it right -- OK? -- then I ought to take time to try to explain to those who are thinking about whether they want to buy it or not, whether it's worth their time to read this book. I ought to take time to explain that. So I think the process is an important one. Some of us, obviously, are better at it than others. I sometimes wish that I would be able to read and -- research and write the book, then I'll clone somebody who could then go on the circuit who would be much better at responding to very interesting questions like that, you see.
LAMB: When did you start it?
HAMILTON: Adam Clayton Powell died April 4th, 1972, the same day, four years earlier, that King was killed. He [Powell] died April 4th, 1972. My first interview was December 1972 with one of his old colleagues, J. Raymond Jones. I interviewed him in St. Thomas. Then I put it aside. I kept gathering data on Harlem and politics and so forth, but I didn't pick it up again until the mid-'80s. I would say, you know, there's never, as you would understand a specific cutoff date or start, but I would say I spent the last four and a half to five years on the book continuously, week after week, intensively gathering data, going to the archives, the libraries, the Library of Congress, the presidential libraries. So I would say four and a half to five years weekly -- every week, that is -- on that book.
LAMB: Your most valuable source of information.
HAMILTON: Archival materials, particularly the presidential libraries of Johnson in Austin, Texas, and Eisenhower in Abilene, Kansas. Library of Congress had superb work on NAACP papers. Oh, and I got 6,600 pages of FBI materials through the Freedom of Information Act -- very good. A lot of oral history materials from the Columbia University Library, some materials from -- it's archival material -- Schomburg Library in New York. Then followed by selected interviews with people who one, were available to talk to me about him. And then, two -- and that was some very good interviews, and I particularly wanted people who were on his staff, you know, and I got a superb set of interviews there some of his colleagues there. I must tell you -- first of all, that was part of the put-off, incidentally, for taking so long. Wouldn't you know it? Mr. Powell, as was his wont, didn't leave any systematic collection of papers, you know, and so that worried me a bit. Well, how do I get my hands -- and I was insistent on doing a heavily documented study. I did not want to do an impressionistic one or one based substantially or exclusively on interviews. I wanted heavily documented -- well, I'm a professor and that was very important to me. So I just said, "Well, gee, can I get good solid primary data?" And so the answer is yes. His letters that he wrote, people wrote to him were in these other places.
LAMB: Something unusual that pops out of your book is that he supported Dwight Eisenhower instead of Adalai Stevenson.
HAMILTON: Yeah. And there are a lot of reasons for that, his own and others. I don't think there was anything Mr. Powell did for which there were not at least multiple reasons. A lot of people said, "Oh, look at that. He's under investigation for his income taxes." Now we're talking '55, '56. And so, "If he cuts a deal with the Republicans," they said, "the Republicans will ease up on investigating his income taxes." That's one reason. Another reason was his own. "You want to know why I supported Eisenhower? Because he's better than Stevenson on civil rights." Well, not many civil rights people believed that, so there were a lot of reasons why he supported Eisenhower, and they are always mixed up with the political, professional and personal explanations. But he survived it. He almost got in trouble with it in terms of denying his seniority in Congress, but he survived. That's something else that was intriguing about this man as you'd go along. You would say, "Oh, there goes Adam jumping off a roof again." And you're right. But he would land on his feet.
LAMB: You will be most happy when all the dust clears on this book if what happens?
HAMILTON: Well, very interestingly enough, excluding the commercial aspect of that question, I would like to see -- interestingly enough -- of course, re-examination of him and his life, but, you know, that'll happen at any rate. There'll be more. But I want to see this serve as a sort of further spur to the examination of other stories -- not just biographies, but other complex stories about the movement. We've been very simplistic, I think, in explaining this very important American struggle. We've been very simplistic -- good guys against the bad guys, right or wrong, and this life is simply an account of the complexity of that struggle. And so, if people can read this book and say, "Yeah, well, let's look at some other people and some other episodes in that kind of way," I would be very happy. I would be very happy.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like: "Adam Clayton Powell Jr." It's "The Political Biography of A Political Dilemma" by Charles V. Hamilton. Thank you, Professor.
HAMILTON: Thank you, sir, for having me.
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