Charles Rangel
National Visionary

Born on June 11, 1930 in Harlem, NY

U.S. Congressman, lawyer

Congressman Charles Rangel has represented the neighborhood of his youth, the 15th Congressional District of New York, for more than 30 years. He is a Democrat who emerged in the 1970’s as a powerful and formidable politician. A Korean War hero and defender of the poor and disadvantaged, Rangel is known for his strong skills in negotiation and coalition building.

Rangel was the second of three children born to Ralph and Blanche Rangel of Harlem, New York. His mother was a well-known civic worker in Harlem who worked in the garment district and was active in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Rangel’s father left the family when he was six. At eight years old, Rangel went to work in a neighborhood drug store, delivering prescriptions and pouring castor oil into small bottles from five-gallon cans. At 16, he quit high school to sell shoes and drifted until he went into the Army.

Rangel as a young man

Rangel served in the 2nd Infantry Division (503rd Artillery) in Korea from 1948 to 1952. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for Valor after being wounded while bringing 40 men out from behind Chinese lines. He was honorably discharged as staff sergeant. When he returned to New York, Rangel could get little more than menial jobs so he went back to high school and graduated in 1953. He then used the G.I. bill to go to college. He received a B.S. in business administration from New York University School of Commerce in 1957. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. He later completed a L.L.B. from St. John’s University School of Law in 1960.

Before earning a law degree, Rangel served as a legal assistant in New York County District Attorney’s office from 1953-1959. He became a special investigator for the Local Elections Fraud Bureau and then joined the firm of Weaver, Evans, Wingate and Wright. He was admitted into the practice in the courts in 1960. In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy named him Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Federal Court, Southern District of New York.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
While serving as a legal advisor to many figures of the Civil Rights Movement, Rangel became interested in politics and ran as a candidate to represent the 72nd District, Central Harlem, in the state assembly in 1968. In 1969, he turned his attention to national issues when he spoke out against the Vietnam War and decided to run for Congress. He ousted Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Harlem’s once powerful representative.

As congressman, Rangel chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1975, he became the first African American to serve as a member of the House Ways and Means committee and is now the ranking Democrat on that committee. In 1983, he was appointed deputy whip for the House Democratic leadership and was one of the few black Democrats to support Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1984. In 2001, Rangel proposed that Congress hold a one-day session in New York to show its support of that city after the 9/11 attacks. The session was held in September 2002.

Rangel is married to Alma Carter, a former social worker. They have two children.


Charles Rangel's Wikipedia Page

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