Harlem Week Interview with Congressman Charles B. Rangel
As Congressman Charles B. Rangel is at the end of this year (2016) leaving the US House of Representatives after a historic 46-year run as Harlem’s 2nd member of Congress (the 1st member was the legendary Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. who was elected in 1945 and served until 1971 (to be succeeded by Rangel). HARLEM WEEK, Inc. wanted to ask 10 key questions of Rangel, who was one of its co-founders.
HW: Tell us about the origination of the name “Gang of 4” which included you, Percy Sutton, David Dinkins, and Basil Paterson?
CBR: The term began as a negative name for Percy, David, Basil, and me in the mid-eighties when a then mayoral candidate, Herman Badillo, was unable to secure our support to corner the black vote. We didn’t take exception to the term, in fact, we turned the negative accusation and term into a positive one, which now has historic connotations.
HW: How, in your estimation, has HARLEM WEEK helped the growth and development of the greater Harlem area over the years?
CBR: A celebration that began as a day, morphed into a week, and is now a month-long event and has given the historic community and even wider international exposure. I attribute its cultural, economic, and civic growth to the visionary leadership of Lloyd Williams, Percy Sutton, and other luminaries.
HW: How did you first meet your wife, Alma?
CBR: We met on a blind date at the famous Savoy Ballroom, and from that moment on, Alma and the Savoy are inextricably linked in my vision and memory.
HW: What do you believe to be your most important international accomplishment while in Congress?
CBR: Let’s look at this question by regions. I am very proud of being instrumental in the growth of CARICOM and I authored the Caribbean Basin Initiative, neither of which was on the agenda when I arrived in Congress. Of course, my Rangel Amendment or the “Bloody Rangel Amendment,” as it was called by the advocates of Apartheid, has to be among the most important legislative accomplishments of my career. What it did was to deny tax deductions for all U.S. corporations doing business in South Africa at that time. Also, there’s the African Growth and Opportunity Act that has facilitated trade between the U.S. and Sub-Saharan nations on the continent.
HW: What do you believe to be your two most important domestic accomplishments?
CBR: From a domestic standpoint, I think the National Empowerment Zone legislation has greatly enhanced urban and rural economic development. The Earned Income Tax Credit is something I fought long and hard for with the purpose of increasing allowable income of workers, earning up to $30,000 a year.
HW: How did you develop a love for jazz?
CBR: Other than attending the various clubs and concerts that featured Jimmy Lunceford, Earl Hines, Lucky Millender, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington as well as many visits to 52nd Street, which was in the 40s, 50s & 60s the home of Jazz clubs, and of course Minton’s here in Harlem on W. 118th Street, most of my contact with the world of jazz and the musicians came during my time working as a night desk clerk at the famous Hotel Theresa on 125th St.
HW: What are your plans after you leave the congress?
CBR: There is nothing firm at the moment, but I know I will find a way to get involved in education, particularly for the students at The City College of New York. I plan to work in raising funds and scholarships for those students in need of financial support.
HW: What is your fondest memory of your beloved mother?
CBR: My single mother never tired of saying “God is good.” Even during rough times, she never gave up on me and taught me never to complain.
HW: What is your fondest memory of your older brother Ralph?
CBR: Alma always kids me about expanding my social circle, my political advisors. Well, when Ralph was around I didn’t need any social life. With him in my life I didn’t need anyone else. Of course, “the Gang of Four” took his place when Ralph wasn’t around.
HW: Who are your top two African-American heroes?
CBR: That’s not an easy question since I have so many who belong at the top. Still, there’s Muhammad Ali, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and, to stretch the category a bit, I must add the great Nelson Mandela. Let me also note that Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. should go down in history as one of the most consequential and effective political leaders we’ve ever had.