"KING OF THE CATS: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr." by Wil Haygood

"KING OF THE CATS: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr."

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Elegant, energetic biography of controversial Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell (1908-72), by Boston Globe reporter Haygood. This is the story of a pampered minister's son (Powell's father was pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, whose congregation of 15,000 is the country's largest) who, after trying briefly to pass as white at Colgate, became a thunderous spokesman for the nation's blacks. Haygood traces Powell's rise from the fight to reform Harlem Hospital that first brought him notice at age 25 to his role in shaping War on Poverty legislation that brought billions to bear on the nation's poor. But Powell's methods, the author explains, often were questionable: He once threatened to expose an alleged sexual liaison between Martin Luther King, Jr., and a male aide unless the aide called off some picketing that Powell considered inopportune. Powell's tumultuous personal life and financial irregularities opened him to envy, opprobrium, and attack. Loner, gadfly, ombudsman, dandy, debauchee, Powell was both devil and Daniel Webster in the eyes of his colleagues, who voted to deny him his seat in Congress in 1947, a move reversed as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. His ribald exploits and improbable tales--Powell would often retell a joke he'd heard as if it had happened to him--made him a legend of the Harlem Renaissance; his work with LBJ formed a substantive legislative achievement. Haygood tells the story vividly, occasionally giving the warts a force-of-nature gloss. An absorbing and sympathetic account of a highhanded spokesman for the downtrodden.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1993
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin