Charles Bernard Rangel is a lawyer, politician and civil rights activist. He was born on June 11, 1930, in New York City. His parents married at a very young age, and his eldest brother Ralph was born three years after their marriage. Charles followed seven years after that and his sister Frances was born three years after him. His family life was very difficult, with Rangel’s father often abusing his mother. His eldest brother was sent to live with some relatives, as was his younger sister but Rangel stuck around with his mother. His father left the family when Charles was 6 years old, and his mother moved around from place to place, looking for new jobs as a maid or a seamstress.
Charles Rangel was eventually sent to live with some relatives, just as his siblings had been. He started focusing on his studies and was one of the highest achievers at DeWitt Clinton High School. However, he often cut classes and was caught by the police for getting into trouble. In 1947, he dropped out of school and one year later, enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in an all-black artillery during the Korean War, where he was recognized for his leadership skills. During the Battle of Kunu-ri, he sustained shrapnel wounds but managed to lead a battalion of 40 soldiers for three days behind enemy lines. His bravery during the war was rewarded with the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and three battle stars.
After leaving the army, Charles decided to go back and earn his G.E.D. from high school. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the New York University School of Commerce, using his military benefits to finance his tuition. He finished the course in three years, and received his bachelor’s degree with honors in 1957. He then enrolled at St. John’s University School of Law, where he was active in both studies and extracurricular activities. He co-founded the St. John’s Criminal Law Institute and interned for New York county District Attorney Frank Hogan. After graduating from St. John’s in 1960, Rangel briefly worked at a private law firm, before being appointed as the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In 1963, he ran for position of Democratic Party district leader, but lost. However, he was noticed by an politician named Percy Sutton, who helped him get elected to the New York State Assembly. In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he worked for education, health care, employment, economic security, retirement security and increasing equity in foreign policy as a member of a group called “Congressional Black Caucus”. In 1974, he became a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and later helped to end apartheid in South Africa by putting pressure on companies to stop doing business with apartheid supporters.
Charles Rangel has many supporters, but has been the victim of much negative publicity as well. He was arrested for participating in protest rallies, and organizing sit-ins outside the Sudanese Embassy, among other reasons. He has also been chastised for making negative remarks about other politicians and authority figures such as President Bush, comparing him to the Ku Klux Klan leader Bull Connor. He has also made derogatory remarks about Dick Cheney and Rudolph Giuliani. He has also faced charges of tax evasion. In 2006, he wrote a book titled “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress”. He serves on the boards of many committees, including Board of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Congressional Narcotics Abuse and Control Caucus and Executive Board of the Congressional Arts Caucus. He is currently serving his 19th term in the House of Representatives.