I want to thank Errol Louis, New York Daily News Columnist and NY1 News anchor for the article July 10, 2021, What Eric Adams represents: Appreciate the Rise of Black political power in New York.
In particular, I want to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude for his referencing our church, the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church as the incubator, to the large extent of the present power we enjoy. I’m going to share his article after which I will record some of the important events and personalities to confirm and expand upon what Mr. Louis has written:
Eric Adams seemed equal parts dazed and delighted on a primary night, amazed at what he and his team had accomplished. The prestige they were poised to claim, the awesome responsibility they were about to shoulder. The power.
“What a moment,” he told his followers. “The little guy won today.”
Call it the soul of a new machine, the fulfillment of a generational dream. Adams is part of one of the biggest untold stories of New York politics: the steady rise of Black power in every corner of the city.
How did we get here?
The history-making election of David Dinkins in 1989 as the city’s first Black mayor showed a glimpse of what was possible and planted seeds everywhere. But even that groundbreaking achievement had been preceded by a long incubation period, during which the city’s demography was changing rapidly — and Black political aspirations began to bubble and boil. In 1950, shortly after World War II, New York was 85% white. A tremendous confluence of forces brought explosive diversity to the city: liberalized immigration rules in 1965 allowed for waves of newcomers from the Caribbean, Asia, and South America. At the same time, white New Yorkers departed by the hundreds of thousands, pushed by a severe, sustained economic decline in the city and attracted to segregated suburbs by a combination of financial incentives and cultural pressure, packaged and sold as the American dream of homeownership.
By 1990, according to census figures, the city’s white population had fallen by half while minorities increased by 4 million, dramatically reshaping the city’s labor force. It was only a matter of time before these new communities began knocking on the door at City Hall, electing local leaders, and rising through the ranks of the civil service.
That is the fertile soil in which the seeds of Adams’s restless ambition were born.
Some aspiring Black community leaders followed the traditional paths of joining a political club, working in a politician’s office, or delivering services through one of the city’s many religious, charitable, civic, and civil rights organizations — all of which are excellent places to learn the ins and outs of how the system works.
Adams’s unorthodox path to leadership began in the hotbed of Brooklyn’s Black activist politics of the 1970s and 80s, which were infused with, and ran alongside, an equally powerful movement of Afrocentric cultural pride. This brings us to the remarkable story of the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church on Atlantic Ave.
A broad swath of Black politics and culture is connected to the church and its longtime pastor emeritus, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry.
The church offered a big tent of activism and intellectual ferment that attracted a boatload of future leaders. In the 1970s, visitors might hear a lecture by a young Harvard graduate, Cornel West, who spent a year in residence at the church writing “Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity,” the first of his many books.
Daughtry’s chief of staff was a young Charles Barron, who eventually launched a long career in city and state politics. (He recently won the Democratic primary for a City Council seat in East New York that he and his wife, Inez Barron, have held for the last 20 years.)
And Daughtry was the co-founder and first chairman of the National Black United Front, a political alliance that mobilized thousands of New Yorkers on local, national, and international issues — with a special focus on the hot-button issue of police brutality.
At the time, activists affiliated with the church were in a state of near-constant mobilization, responding to terrible incidents like the fatal, point-blank shooting of a 15-year-old child named Randolph Evans by a cop who said he had been fired due to a “psychotic episode” — the first and last of his life — when a group of children ran up to him. Or the 1978 killing of Arthur Miller, a businessman who was swarmed by 16 officers and killed after a traffic stop in Crown Heights (no officers were prosecuted).
The charismatic Daughtry enlisted a young Eric Adams in the battle.
“Rev. Herbert Daughtry and others got tired of fighting from the outside. They later assembled 13 of us in the basement of the House of the Lord Church and told us that they wanted us to go into law enforcement and fight from within,” Adams told me. “I had so much faith in them — I was the youth leader of the Black United Front at the time — and I joined” the New York Police Department.
Going into the department in the mid-1980s with the explicit mission of reforming the NYPD was a tall order at the time, but Adams says he was determined to do something about police abuse. “I benchmarked my life by those shootings. I grew up [in Queens] blocks from where Clifford Glover was shot. Ten years old. He was just running down New York Blvd. [now Guy R. Brewer Blvd.],” he told me.
It was one of those horrific cases that much of New York has forgotten. In 1973, a cop named Thomas Shea and his partner were looking for a robbery suspect when they came across Clifford and his stepfather, who fled in a panic when the cops leaped from their unmarked car brandishing weapons without identifying themselves.
Shea shot the fourth-grader in the back three times, later telling a jury that the child had made a “reaching motion.” He became the first NYPD officer ever charged with a homicide committed while on duty and was acquitted by a jury, triggering massive demonstrations.
“I was not allowed to cross over New York Blvd. after that shooting,” Adams told me. “My mother was so fearful of what happened on that corner. It’s traumatizing. It shapes your whole relationship with law enforcement.”
As an activist-turned-cop, Adams was a frequent public presence on matters of NYPD conduct and eventually turned to politics, running an unsuccessful campaign for Congress before hitting his stride and winning a state Senate seat in 2006.
He wasn’t the only one learning the ropes. Tish James had spent years working for Assemblymen Al Vann and Roger Green — two ex-teachers who’d emerged from the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike.
Hakeem Jeffries, a young attorney, made a run for Assembly and founded a political club, building the backing that carried him into Congress in a notable run against Barron. Ken Thompson, an assistant U.S. attorney, played a high-profile role in prosecuting the cops who brutalized Abner Louima in 1997 and later began floating the idea of running for district attorney. My friend Patrick Gaspard, who’d started out as an advance man on the Dinkins campaign, spent time under the tutelage of the late Bill Lynch and then became a top-notch labor organizer as the political director of SEIU Local 1199 and eventually joined the Obama team, serving as White House political director and later executive director of the Democratic National Committee.
And a much wider circle of Black professionals found their way into crucial, lesser-known areas of government and political influence. Taharka Robinson, a community activist and campaign operative whose mother, Annette Robinson, was a longtime fixture in the Assembly, has built a cottage industry by helping more than a dozen Black and Latino judges get elected. Daughtry’s own daughter, Leah — one of the famous “Colored Girls,” a renowned quartet of Washington-based Black women political operatives — became chief of staff of the DNC and CEO of the 2008 and 2012 national conventions. And a local cluster of Black women movers and shakers — including my wife, Juanita Scarlett — has been quietly helping candidates, especially women of color, run for office and win.
Even Black journalists like me, who have chronicled the rise of these folks, are part of the broad movement. I was hanging around the House of the Lord even before landing my first job out of college at the now-defunct City Sun newspaper.
The paper’s founder, Andy Cooper, was a first-rate muckraker and political agitator. He led protests outside the offices of then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and was the plaintiff in a 1966 lawsuit against the Board of Elections, Cooper vs. Power, that broke up the racial gerrymandering that had prevented the swelling Black community of Central Brooklyn from electing a member of Congress.
The result of the case was a redrawn district that kept Bedford-Stuyvesant intact — and led to the election of Shirley Chisholm as the nation’s first Black congresswoman two years later. Alumni of the City Sun include Joe Sexton, who later became metro editor of the New York Times; Milton Allimadi, who went on to found the Black Star News and Carolyn Butts, the founder of African Voices.
All of which is to say that shallow, sloppy commentary that marks Adams as nothing more than a product of the Brooklyn Democratic machine is completely missing the point. The journey to political power for New York’s Black community has been a broad, long, hard road, full of setbacks, disappointments, defeats, and dead ends. But the lawsuits and long years of community-building have begun to pay off.
If Adams wins in November, it will mark a high tide of Black political power in New York. Black officials currently chair four of the five Democratic county organizations in the city. The Legislature is run by two Black officials, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Tish James is the attorney general. New York’s congressional delegation now has seven Black members, the largest number of Black politicians ever sent to Congress from any state. The almost certain-to-be next Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, is a Black man.
That is why Adams seems so happy and amazed at where fate has landed him. He is part of a generation that has scaled the high peaks, and now sees the glittering summit in sight. What a moment.
To be continued….