Religious Figure, Social Reformer. He was pastor of the historical Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem in New York City, New York from 1908 to 1937, and was the father of minister and United States Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Born one of 17 children, his mother was listed in the United States 1860 census as a "free woman of color" and according to sources, his autobiography states his ancestry being African, Native American, and German. With his biological father being killed in the American Civil War before his birth, the only father he knew was his stepfather. After having troublesome teenage years, he converted to Baptism in 1885. On July 30, 1889, he married Mattie Fletcher. He began to study law and politics but changing his major to theology, graduating in 1892 from Wayland Seminary, a historically black college, with postgraduate studies at Yale School of Divinity and Virginia Seminary. He became the pastor of several churches including ones in St. Paul, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New Haven, Connecticut, where the youngest of his two children, Adam, Jr. was born in 1908. He was known for delivering powerful, emotional 30-minute sermons. In December of 1908, he was called to pastor the historical African-American Abyssinian Baptist Church in lower Manhattan of New York City. During his tenure as pastor, he managed to increase the congregation substantially. By 1923, a new building had been constructed in Harlem, and he was responsible for building one of the first community recreation centers in Harlem. He established a social-religious education program and by the mid-1930s, Abyssinian Baptist Church, boasting 14,000 members, had one of the largest Protestant congregations in the United States. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, he campaigned to feed the poor with free soup kitchens and for better jobs and city services. Powell was also actively involved in the struggle against racism and lectured on race relations. He further was a founder of the National Urban League and an early leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1937 he retired with his son, Adam, Jr., becoming the pastor of the church.
Bio by: Curtis Jackson