Pastor and activist Adam Clayton Powell Sr. was born May 5, 1865, in Franklin County, Virginia. Powell was troubled as a youth, but turned his life over to Christianity when he attended a revival meeting. He went on to study religion at Wayland Seminary, a historically Black college that was located in Washington, D.C. He earned his degree in 1892.
Powell was married to Mattie Fletcher in July 30, 1889. They had two children: Blanch Powell and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. A year after receiving his diploma from seminary school, Powell became the minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He is known for growing the congregation from 25 to 600 under his leadership.
In 1908, he went on to take pastorial leadership over the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan. He attracted congregants with his "energetic" preaching style and urged them to protest racial discrimination in the country. After Absynnian relocated to Harlem, the church membership grew to 14,000 and it was known as the largest church in the nation in its day.
Outside of the pulpit, Powell was also a member of the NAACP and the National Urban League. He called for better employment and services for the African-American community in New York City. On a national front, he worked with other religious leaders to lead a silent protest in July 1917 in the wake of the massacre of Blacks in East St. Louis, Missouri, in May and June 1917. He was also acknowledged by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity as an honorary member.
In 1937, Powell retired. He died at the age of 88 in New York City on June 12, 1953.
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