The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 85,145 black Americans with Adams as their last name. That represented 20% of the total of 427,865 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Adams in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Adams Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Adams ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 893 people named Adams who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 317 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 46,150 free citizens named Adams that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
11,319 people named Adams were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,584 as mixed.
There was a total of 79,111 people with the name.
Adams In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 23,448 people named Adams as black within a total of 136,733 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 33,475 people named Adams as black within a total of 227,161.
Historic Black Figures With The Adams Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history.
Oscar Adams Sr
- Born: 1888
- From: Gulf Crest, Alabama
- Died: 1945
Oscar W. Adams attended the Alabama A&M University in Huntsville and graduated in 1906. He moved to Birmingham and founded the Birmingham Reporter around that time.
This was a weekly newspaper mostly distributed to African Americans in Alabama and Mississippi. Adams reported in 1922 that the circulation was over 27,000 copies a week.
The Birmingham Reporter continued until 1934. It was funded through subscriptions and advertisements, and the Great Depression took its toll.
If you want to know more about the newspaper man, we have a fuller bio of Oscar W. Adams.
Emory University has the papers of Oscar W. Adams dating from 1910 to 1978.
Other black newspaper publishers
Here are some more black publishers who founded newspapers that covered and promoted civil rights.
Oscar Adams Jr
Oscar Adams Jr. was the son of the publisher in the previous section. Adams Jr. became Alabama’s first black Supreme Court justice.
The younger Oscar graduated with a law degree from Howard University in 1947 and was admitted to the Alabama bar.
Adams Jr worked closely with the Birmingham civil rights group led by Fred Shuttlesworth. He was a committee member during the organized demonstrations in the 1960s.
The Alabama Bar Association have an appreciation of the late justice.
The California Gold Rush saw several hundred black miners working as part of the Forty-niners. Many used their earnings to buy their own freedom or freedom for family in the South.
John Adams was one of the Forty-niners. His work was called “placer” mining. This involved using a pick to scoop surface dirt into a sieve.
Adams would pour water through the sieve to dislodge the gravel, leaving the “pay-dirt” of gold behind.
Fred Coleman, a black cattle herder, was watering his horse in a creek when he spotted golden flecks. His discovery in 1869 brought miners flocking to what as known as the Coleman Mining District.
John Joseph sailed to Australia to mine for gold and became the leader of a miner rebellion.
Adams In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Adams surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Adams was in 1867.
John Adams was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1914. Roderick Adams was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Adams was for Russell Adams from Oakland, Michigan. He enlisted in 1861 aged 21.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Apothecary. His naval rank was Surgeon’s Steward.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in 1865. George was aged 22 and was from Alexandria, Virginia.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Waiter. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Paul Adams graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Paul was from Greenville, South Carolina.
John Adams came from Kansas City, Kansas. He trained as a fighter pilot and graduated in 1945.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.