Charles Rangel

Charles Rangel reflects on his service, eyes the future of Harlem

Charles Rangel reflects on his historic run in the House of Representatives.

Charles Rangel

Charles Rangel Photo by Sean Pressley

Charles Rangel was a force in New York politics for decades. As New York’s longest-serving congressman, Rangel was the last of the Gang of Four, an African-American political coalition from Harlem, to retire from political office in 2016. And though he was primarily known as a figurehead of black political power in New York, Rangel was also outspoken on veterans issues. For his service in the Korean War, Rangel received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal for valor. City & State recently spoke to Rangel about how his service influenced his career, why he wanted to reinstate the draft and how he envisions the future of Harlem politics. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

You have introduced bills several times to reinstate mandatory military service. Tell me why you think the draft is necessary.

We haven’t had a declared war in the United States since Franklin Roosevelt. Listening to presidents from Truman to Trump threatening to annihilate entire countries – and Congress not wanting to get involved in what clearly is not a threat to our national security – allows presidents, one after the other, to violate the Constitution and send out young people into harm’s way in the Middle East and Africa. It is just tragic. I go to the funerals, especially for those who died when I was a congressman, and to have to tell some of the families that the kids were heroes and died for the flag and for America – some of them are not even citizens and some of them are now being denied citizenship by this president – and to know that most of the members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, haven’t the slightest idea of the horror of war, just believing that we can send human beings for political reasons into foreign territories, all I said was we can have all the wars and interventions and building of new political authorities in countries, but let the American people through the Congress verify.

And that’s all I said. Everybody that’s eligible, men and women alike, should be registered to draft. And the question as to whether or not they need it then is a question for our military. And the question of whether we’re going to war would not be just a president making the decision, but one that’s verified by the people’s House of Representatives and the Senate. It just makes a hell of a lot of sense.

But presidents would like to ignore the legislative branch for a variety of reasons. And members don’t want it on their conscience that they made a mistake, but like to receive the benefits of what always looks like a short but winning event, and I can’t begin to tell you the number of members, Republican and Democrat, that supported me, encouraged me and did not have the courage to sign that bill. And once the bill was put on a consent calendar, which means it’s noncontroversial – limited debate, no hearings, no witnesses – of course members thought that it was such a serious bit of legislation that it should have a hearing. And they voted no, and used that as an excuse to say that the bill had no meaning.

"The patriotism of black veterans really exceeds most people in America. And I think that’s because we know this is the best country in the world."

You mentioned President Donald Trump’s threats. Do you think under his administration we’re coming closer to war?

I have no idea, and neither do you or anybody else. You find two people (Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) without any international diplomatic training, threatening to use (a) nation’s weapons to prove a point. I was born and raised on the streets of Lenox Avenue and I have not heard that type of rhetoric from competing gang leaders.

Charles Rangel
Photo by Sean Pressley
Looking back, what was behind your decision to serve in the military?

I hadn’t completed high school. I was without gainful employment and my oldest brother just completed four years in the Army, having enlisted before Pearl Harbor. And I recognized what a great economic contribution his check was making to my mom. Also in September of 1948, President Truman had indicated that he was starting a draft for two years in the regular Army. Many of my friends, in order to avoid the draft, selected to enlist for one year and then after that they would not be ready for active duty. They would have served their draft obligations, except they would have six years of active reserve.

How did you feel about the fact that the Army was de facto segregated at that point?

All my life, I’d known segregation. With the country being so racist, then when I was young and now when I’m 88, I’ve never met a white Southerner in Harlem, period, which shows you the fact that I know racism, even if not as direct as what was known in the South. It’s forced me to dedicate my life in the civil rights movement, having marched from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King and been involved in freedom fights since my discharge from the Army. The racism in the country, it was accepted in all of the wars since the Civil War. It was hard to know segregation, but it really hits when you served your country well and been honored for it, to go to a town like Lawton, Oklahoma, where I saw the depth of racism. I should not have been surprised because it still exists today, and the patriotism of black veterans really exceeds most people in America. And I think that’s because we know this is the best country in the world. We know racism exists and we know that the fight continues and we’re all involved in it.

“I was born and raised on the streets of Lenox Avenue and I have not heard (Trump and Kim’s) rhetoric from competing gang leaders.”

Pivoting to the coming elections, you endorsed Robert Jackson against Marisol Alcantara in the primary for the 31st state Senate District. Why is it important to you to defeat the former members of the Independent Democratic Conference?

I truly believe when someone enters elective office as a legislative representative, that they should have to identify themselves by party or independent, so that people who don’t know them have some idea of what they stand for. And as far as I know, the only Democrat in that race is Robert Jackson. Whoever got elected under the banner of being a Democrat is obviously hypocritical and hardly any of her supporters thought that she would be working with Republicans and not the party of her alleged choosing.

Do you think Jackson can actually win?

I don’t think there’s any question. I don’t know the polls, but I would have thought they would have him as a front-runner.

This district has become more Latino and less African-American over the past decade. What do you make of the changing demographics of that district, which overlaps with your former district quite a bit?

Every 10 years there have been changes in the makeup of the district. All African-Americans, and now African-African Americans and Latinos, Puerto Rican Americans and Mexicans, have made this what David Dinkins refers to as the gorgeous mosaic. And even though some people still vote by ethnicity, whether they’re white, Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Hispanic or black, I think the overall concern of people has been what they think has been best for the community.

In a two-way race, does the Latino community has enough votes to overcome the African-American vote?

I think it’s clear on the other congressional districts similarly affected by the shift in populations that we are now talking about coalition politics. I don’t think it’s a question of one group over the other. That is a factor, but the coalition is a much more serious thing when someone says they are going to run in a district and you look at them and you look at the incumbent, you asked for more answers. And there’s no question in my mind that if the person (does) not have the same racial or religious persuasion (as) the incumbent, there are things that could overcome that. No question in my mind.

Many people are expecting a blue wave in New York this fall. What do you expect?

Last time I gave my expectation, Trump won the election, so I don’t trust my predictions any longer.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of David Dinkins, the former New York City mayor. 

NEXT STORY: Who's up and who's down this week?

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.