Charlie Rangel, the charismatic congressman from New York, began his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives on this day in 1970 after he defeated Harlem’s beloved incumbent, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Rangel is the second-longest serving House member and is its most senior member as well.
Charles Bernard Rangel was born June 11, 1930 in New York City. His father, Ralph, was from Puerto Rico and his mother hailed from New York by way of Virginia. Rangel joined the U.S. Army in 1948 and served in the Korean War.
His efforts in the war yielded him the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals. He finished high school after serving in the war in 1953 and then attended New York University. In 1960, Rangel obtained his law degree from St. John’s University.
After stints working for a small Black law firm and developing a reputation as a champion of civil rights for African-Americans, Rangel eventually found his way into the world of politics. In 1967, he began the first of two terms as part of the New York Assembly, representing Harlem.
In 1970, Rangel’s challenge to Powell’s 18th Congressional District seat was met with curiosity as the upstart politician battled ethics allegations during his time as an assemblyman. Powell was also the first Black New Yorker to be elected to Congress. However, Rangel was able to defeat the incumbent and has not left the House floor since then.
Rangel’s rise in the political ranks was rapid. He was also an active supporter of Israel and used his charm to sway members of his party and those across the aisle on a variety of issues.
The congressman’s time in office has not been without some controversy. In 2010, Rangel faced 13 ethics charges related to unreported income, tax shelters and other concerns. In 2013, the outspoken Rangel turned heads when he called members of the Tea Party “white crackers” in a blistering interview.
The bulletproof Rangel was able to brush past the controversies and maintained his elite political status and office. He’s represented five districts in New York, with the 13th Congressional District being his current post. Rangel is also the first Black congressman to serve as chair of the Ways and Means Committee and is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Only Congressman John Conyers from Michigan, who is also African-American, has served longer in the House than Rangel.