Eclipse Magazine - Produced by NABVETS 2015 First Edition | Page 9

by Jennifer Chiesa Congressman Charles Rangel hasn’t had a bad day since Kunu-ri would instead serve for four years before receiving an honorable discharge, and being awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor. The experience of serving in the Korean War changed Rangel in ways he never expected, and he arrived home brimming with self-confidence, and ready for whatever the world would throw at him. But the world didn’t quite welcome him with the open arms he expected. “I thought I was somebody special when I came back from Korea… but the jobs I could get when I got home were the same jobs I could get before I left.” After an especially bad day on the job pushing a handcart in the rain in New York’s garment district, Rangel decided he needed to make a change. “I went down to the veteran’s center, basically manned by disabled white WWII veterans…At the end of the day, they gave me an aptitude test and said that I should be a mortician. I told them I had seen more than enough dead bodies to last a lifetime,” he remembers. Though he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, he knew college would be the way out. Rangel settled on studying law because he thought it might impress his grandfather, who had helped to raise him after his oft-unemployed father left when Rangel was six years old. “My grandfather spent over 30 years as an elevator operator in the criminal justice building. He only got excited about the judges and D.A.s and lawyers there. He held them in high esteem. When I told him I was going to do that, he just laughed and laughed.” After completing two years of high school course work in only one year to obtain his GED in 1953, Rangel continued on to New York University with the help of the G.I. Bill, making the dean’s list and graduating in 1957. He won a full scholarship to attend St. John’s University School of Law, and graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in 1960. Though a life of public service hadn’t been his boyhood dream, it suited him perfectly from the start. In 1961, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appointed Rangel as the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He served through 1962. “I decided that putting people in jail wasn’t really what I wanted to be about.” Taken under the wing of Tuskegee Airman and NAACP leader Percy Sutton, Rangel was elected to two terms in the New York State Assembly, then defeated Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in the primary on his way to being elected to the House of Representatives in 1970. “I was satisfied with a state office, and I never really planned to go further. But if you are in a profession you enjoy, you don’t have to plan where you’re going. It just takes you there.” Once in Congress, Rangel rose through the Democratic ranks, founding the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 and becoming the first African American member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 1974. Tip O’Neill would make him Deputy Majority Whip in 1983. But Rangel always saw his increasing influence as a means to an end—advancing equal rights and equal opportunity for all, both at home and abroad. In December 1984, Rangel was arrested while participating in an anti-apartheid rally in New York. In 1987, he took his passion for bringing meaningful change to South Africa to the House floor as the Rangel Amendment, which called for the removal of tax credits for corporations operating in that country. Several major companies left South Africa because of the amendment, and the resulting economic destabilization was cited by Nelson Mandela as a major factor in the end of apartheid there. Closer to home, Rangel fought hard to decrease the number of low-income households on the tax rolls in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. He also authored the LowIncome Housing Tax Credit portion of the bill, which created more affordable housing in the U.S., and when negotiations between the House-Senate joint conference stalled, the Congressman known as just plain “Charlie” to representatives and janitors alike, used his genial manner and disarming candor to help broker an agreement. And though most of the men from his battalion are now gone, the Korean War hero continues to honor them through his work on veteran’s issues. He has 9