Remembering one of OU’s first black journalism graduates: Alvin Adams
By Hannah Wintucky
When Governor George Wallace stood on the steps of the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963, and denied African Americans the right to enroll in the college, Alvin Adams was there to report the story.
“Like Simon Peter standing at the door without, Alabama Gov. George Wallace thrice denied two Negroes admission to the University of Alabama,” Adams wrote for Jet magazine. “But with the arrival of federal troops, Gov. Wallace, like the man who just heard the second crowing of the cock, stepped aside.”
Adams was creating history far before his career as a reporter for Jet, a popular African-American lifestyle magazine founded in 1951. From its beginning, Jet extensively covered the civil rights movement. Adams was also one of the first African-American journalism graduates from Ohio University, receiving his BSJ in 1959.
“He always wanted to go to college,” Ada Adams, Alvin Adams’ wife, said in an interview with E.W. Scripps School of Journalism director.
Alvin Adams was born on April 30, 1937 in Southeast Ohio, just outside of Chester Hill. His father died shortly after Adams was born, leaving his mother a single parent. Adams had planned on graduating from high school and getting a job, and college was a dream that seemed a little farther out of a reach, Ada Adams said. However, his high school teacher, Bonnie Kindle, took an interest in Alvin Adams, seeing he had a greater potential.
Alvin Adams, seated behind the typewriter, with his classmates at Coolville High School.
She told him that she was going to take him to O.U. and introduce him to Professor Hortin and see about getting him enrolled at O.U., Ada Adams said. She did that. Through her efforts Al was valedictorian of his class and got a minor scholarship through the high school and got another scholarship to attend the journalism school.
Alvin Adams became a janitor at Chubb Hall. He never lived in the dorms, Ada Adams said, and spent a lot of time at Chubb Hall. Alvin Adams also worked at Kleins Drug Store while attending college.
After graduating, Alvin Adams applied to work anywhere in Ohio, Ada Adams said.
They weren’t hiring blacks at the time, Ada Adams said. The Chicago Defender finally sent him a notice to come for an interview. So, Al started working for the Chicago Defender in 1960.
In 1961, Alvin Adams was hired by Johnson Publishing Company and started working for Jet magazine. While working at Jet, he covered important events in the civil rights movement, such as the protests in Selma, Alabama, and speeches by Malcolm X. He also interviewed famous African-Americans such as Muhammed Ali.
Alvin and Ada Adams, who were married at the time, were struggling to make ends meet. The two were married for a total of 43 years after haven been high school sweethearts. Ada Adams said even as an associate editor for Jet, Alvin Adams wasn’t making enough money to support his wife and two children, Amelia Adams and Alvin C. Adams III.
Eventually, Alvin Adams had to take a leave of absence from work. During this time, he remained on payroll part time and was seen as more of a civil rights consultant. When he wasn’t reporting the news, he was able to get involved more directly in the civil rights movement.
Alvin Adams ended up moving to the public relations side of the business. He worked for organizations such as the United Auto Workers and the State of Illinois. He still wrote for his job, Ada Adams said, but a different type of writing. He also worked on stories on the side, and Ada Adams said he was working on a couple of books.
“For him, I believe, (he stopped because of) money,” Ada Adams said. “He always liked to write.”
Alvin Adams moved to Athens again in 1998 after retiring from public relations in 1997. He co-founded the Multicultural Genealogical Center in Chesterhill, Ohio, with his wife in 1999.
Alvin Adams died in 2004 at age 66. He had worked on many community projects until his death. In 2007, Adams residence hall on South Green was named in honor of Alvin Adams.