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(1955) Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., "Speech on Civil Rights"

On February 2, 1955, New York Representative Adam Clayton Powell, then one of only three African Americans in the U.S. Congress, rose to argue that his colleagues should support two pending civil rights bills then before the House of Representatives.  His speech appears below:

Mr. Speaker, the United States Congress is a 19th century body in a 20th century world. In the field of civil rights we are still conducting ourselves along the pattern of yesterdays world. Tremendous changes are taking place in our country eradicating the concept of second-class citizenship. Yet the United States Congress has done absolutely nothing in this sphere. We are behind the times. We are a legislative anachronism. In an age of atomic energy, our dynamic is no more powerful than a watermill.

The executive and the judicial branches of our Government have passed us by so completely and are so far ahead that the peoples of our Nation do not even look to the United States Congress any longer for any dynamic leadership in the field of making democracy real. So many changes, tremendous changes, have taken place under our Supreme Court and under the leadership of President Eisenhower that many of the civil rights bills which I used to introduce are no longer of any value. This year, for instance, I did not introduced the bill to abolish segregation in the Armed Forces--it was not needed. Nor did I introduce the bill to guarantee civil rights in the District of Columbia-it was not needed.

I think it highly significant to point out that the appointment of my distinguished colleagues, Representatives Diggs, of Detroit, Mich., and Dawson, of Chicago, Ill., to the Veterans Affairs Committee and the District of Columbia Committee, respectively, was due entirely to the changing climate.

Two years ago the leadership of this House, Republican or Democrat, would not have dared to place a Negro on either of these two committees because both were committees which dealt with segregation.

Our Veterans Administration rigidly maintained the bars

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