newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican Party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both of his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas during Reconstruction. By 1874 Adams had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism...
newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican Party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both of his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas during Reconstruction. By 1874 Adams had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican Party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican Party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching.Adams entered journalism in 1879 when he and his brother, Cyrus Field Adams, established the Louisville Bulletin, a weekly newspaper that served the Louisville African American community until 1885, when it was subsumed by the American Baptist. In 1880 Adams helped organize the National Afro-American Press Association, which held its first annual meeting in Louisville that year. Elected the organization's first president, he served from 1880 to 1882.In 1886 Adams accepted an offer to join the staff of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Western Appeal, a black-owned weekly. Within a year he assumed the editorship and incorporated the Northwestern Publishing Company, which supported the expansion of the newspaper to include offices in Chicago, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. The Western Appeal prospered under his leadership; it was one of only nine African American newspapers established in the 1880s that survived until 1914. Its editorials consistently attacked racial discrimination and called for equal treatment both locally and nationally.Adams helped organize resistance to racial discrimination in public accommodations and in the workplace in Minnesota through the establishment of the Minnesota Protective and Industrial League in 1887 and its successor, the Afro-American League of St. Paul, in 1889. He worked with T. Thomas Fortune to found the National Afro-American League in 1890, serving on its first executive committee. The Afro-American Council, dominated by Booker T. Washington's accommodationist “Tuskegee machine,” received his initial support in 1898. By 1903 the hostility of the council to civil rights activism in the North alienated Adams. Although he was not a leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he endorsed it by 1913 and broke with the Tuskegee faction. His editorials and civic activity continued to attack racial discrimination for the remainder of his life.The other constant in Adams's public life was loyalty to the Republican Party. The Western Appeal consistently endorsed Republican candidates even as the party courted white southern votes by abandoning civil rights. Only President Warren G. Harding's acquiescence to segregation and lynching finally led Adams to question publicly his allegiance to the party.Adams's influence peaked between 1890 and 1910. By 1913 the Western Appeal had closed its offices in Dallas, St. Louis, Louisville, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., and had shrunk to a local weekly. The paper and its editor remained influential in St. Paul, however, until his death. Adams was killed in an automobile accident in St. Paul. He was survived by his wife, Ella B. Smith, whom he had married in 1892; the couple had four children.Even as he spent his life fighting the rising tide of racism during the Gilded Age, Adams demonstrated that the barriers to freedom were not insurmountable. His creation of a newspaper with offices in seven major cities, his leadership among African American journalists, and his advocacy of civil rights earned him a national reputation by 1900. He epitomized the African American middle class of the urban North. Light enough in complexion to pass for white, he edited a “race journal” supported by the African American community and dedicated to securing their civil rights.
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