Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #17

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908 – 1972)


Many streets in Harlem are named after great black leaders, including Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. is named after a man who deserves to be every bit as famous as the others. Not only was he the first black man on the New York City Council, the first Harlemite in the US Congress, and the first black chairman of a major congressional committee (the Education Committee), but even without all that, Powell deserves to be remembered for his activities on 125th Street, not half a block from the state office building that now bears his name. In 1934, Blumstein’s Department Store was segregated, hiring black janitors but only white sales clerks or managers. Powell led a boycott of Blumstein’s under the banner “DON’T BUY WHERE YOU CAN’T WORK” and he won and the store changed its policy. This was two full decades before anyone ever heard the name Rosa Parks. When Dr. King organized the Montgomery bus boycott of the mid-1950’s and spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement, he borrowed a page from Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and his Blumstein’s boycott some 20 years earlier.

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