This short biography of Oscar W Adams was adapted and modernized from “The National Cyclopedia of The Colored Race”, published in 1919.
In the early 1900s, many enterprising young African Americans threw their weight into improving the lives and opportunities for the black community in Birmingham Alabama.
In the words of his contemporaries, none fought harder or more creditably than Oscar W Adams.
Oscar W. Adams was born in Gulf Crest, Alabama, one time known as Beaver Meadow. Gulf Crest was a community about 25 miles out of Mobile.
He attended the district school to the 8th grade and then made his way to Normal, Alabama, to the A. and M. College.
To make his way through school, both in public school and for the first year in College, Mr. Adams worked as a laborer on a turpentine farm.
Going Into Journalism
While a student, Adams became the editor of the Normal College newspaper.
He graduated in 1906 and embarked on a career in the newspaper industry.
For a number of years, he lived out pretty faithfully the advice of Horace Greeley to the young aspirants to Journalism: “to sleep on paper and eat ink.”
The Birmingham Reporter
Mr Adams either bought or founded the Birmingham Reporter, a newspaper catering to the black community.
The struggle of being a newspaper proprietor was even more bitter, if possible.
Business was not buoyant in Birmingham in those years. His subscribers were few and his advertisers small and uncertain.
Payment for both subscriptions and advertisements very slow in coming in.
To keep the paper alive, Mr. Adams gave up his lodgings and slept in the office on a lounge. He ate a full meal whenever he could afford to do so.
He is quoted to have said:
“But I always paid my helpers. I didn’t think it right to keep them waiting. It was none of their affair if the paper failed.”
However, the Reporter came into its heyday in the 1920s. The circulation was reported to be over 27 thousand copies a week.
Adams As A Mason
Mr. Adams was an enthusiastic proponent of black orders of Freemasons. His newspaper was the official publication of three orders:
- the Knights of Pythias
- Odd Fellows
- the Masonic Order of Alabama.
He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Elks, the K. L. of H., and the Mosaic Templars.
He was also Secretary of the United Brothers of Friendship, as well as its spokesman in his journal.
Adams And Education
Adams was a strong proponent for education for black communities in Alabama.
He continued to take an interest in Normal A&M College and used his newspaper to report on the college and the local schools.
As his contemporaries noted in the Cyclopedia:
He is very loyal to Normal, not only because this is his Alma Mater, but because he really knows what it means for most of our boys and girls to secure even a fair education, an education rising but little above the three R’s.
Oscar W. Adams was also a noted public speaker. His admirers said in 1919 that he had filled some of the most important speaking engagements of any member of his race.
They described his talents like this:
He is a man of rare quality in this special line of work. He is a student of history, and his delivery is easy and pleasant.
He has, no doubt, appeared before more audiences in the past five years than any man in the race of his age.
As well as speaking out on civil rights, Adams oratorical talents were employed by the United States during the First World War.
Woodrow Wilson launched the Four Minute Men, an organization of volunteers who gave short speeches to support the war effort.
Adams was Chairman of the Four Minute Men Speakers of the State of Alabama. He was also a member of the State Committee on War Savings Certificates.
Oscar Adams married Mamie Tugglein in 1910. Unfortunately, Mrs Mamie Adams died just five years later.
Their son, Oscar Adams Jr, was notable in his own right as Alabama’s first black Supreme Court justice.