Powell, Daniel Augustus, 1911-1983

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Daniel Augustus Powell was born on 29 July 1911, in Wilson, North Carolina, the son of Daniel A. Powell, Sr., a physician, and Lilliam L. Warren Powell. He married Rachel Ola Staples in 1945, and they had two children, Danial A. and Pamela R. Powell.

Powell graduated from Goldsboro High School in 1929 and in 1930 attended Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina, where he managed the college news bureau. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1930 to 1931.

In the 1930s Powell worked as a salesman for the American Circulation Company, the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, and as advertising salesman for the Memphis Press-Scimitar. He was an account executive for the O'Callaghan Advertising Agency in 1939-1940 and served in the United States Army Air Force in World War II. Powell was briefly the Assistant Information Director for the West Tennessee Office of Price Administration in 1945 and in the same year became the Southern Director of the Political Action Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Powell had had experience as a union organizer in 1938-1939 when he helped organize a local of the Newspaper Guild at the Memphis Press-Scimitar, but in his new position Powell's work was directed toward building strong union political organizations. Disappointed by conservative political gains in th 1940s and what it perceived as increasing anti-union feeling in national and state governments, the CIO created in 1943 its Political Action Committee under the direction of Sydney Hillman. In its organizational structure PAC paralleled the structure of the CIO. National PAC operated at CIO headquarters in Washington. The national union hoped to create PACs at every level of union organization: state, city, county, and local. Regional PAC directors like Powell would coordinate the activities of the various PACs in their territory and form the connecting link with the national office in Washington. Although the national PAC could draw on general CIO funds, the plan was to make each level of PAC organization self-sufficient, meeting its budget by contributions from the appropriate union level. Many PAC staff members, particularly field workers, would also be on loan from local unions. Ideally the organizational line ran from the national PAC office to Powell. Powell in turn would be in touch with state PACs which drew staff and funds from the state CIO; city PACs, drawing staff and funds from city central labor councils; county or congressional district PACs; and finally PACs in each local of the various CIO unions.

When the CIO merged with the American Federation of Labor in 1955, the AFL's League for Labor Education joined with the CIO's PAC to become the Committee on Political Education (COPE). Powell then became director of COPE Region 5, roughly the same territory he had covered for PAC. The structure and function of COPE were much the same as that of PAC.

Much of Powell's effort from 1945 to 1983 was directed toward making a reality of the strong PAC/COPE organization that had been envisioned in 1945. His other major area of responsibility was assessing the political situation in his territory and coordinating the support of local unions for labor candidates and programs. Powell's organizational duties were complicated by the relative weakness of unions in the South, lingering friction between AFL and CIO unions, and personality and political clashes within the unions themselves. His political duties were complicated by the increasing conservatism of the region, particularly after the civil rights decisions of the mid-1950s. Increasingly, Powell found himself promoting a political agenda which, at least on the question of race, was out of step not only with most of the white citizens of his region but also with a large number of union members.

Powell was an agnostic in religion and a liberal in political and social beliefs. He had a continuing interest in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Memphis which he helped form and in such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Tennessee Council on Human Relations, the Tennessee Committee for the Humanities, and the United States Civil Rights Commission. Powell's interest in the labor movement and politics was theoretical as well as practical. He belonged to the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Academy of Political Science. In 1977 he contributed an article on COPE to Studies in Southern Labor History. Powell died at Baptist Hospital, Memphis, on 6 August 1983.

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referencedIn Mississippi AFL-CIO correspondence, 1959-1986. Georgia State University
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Birth 1911

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