Victoria Almeter Jackson was born on 5 November 1926 to Mack and Annie Mae Ott Jackson, in Palmer’s Crossing, Hattiesburg’s historically black community. She graduated from the Depriest Consolidated Schools in Palmer’s Crossing and attended Jackson State College (now Jackson State University), Wilberforce University, and Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). Adams served as a campus minister at Virginia State University and a guest lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the United States.
She began her four decades as a civil rights advocate in Hattiesburg by attempting to enable African Americans to register to vote. She operated freedom schools in the Hattiesburg area to teach literacy classes that empowered and enabled African Americans to pass the voter registration test. In 1964 her commitment to civil and political justice was tested when she ran for the US Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat John C. Stennis. Her candidacy represented a bold move at a time when most of Mississippi’s African Americans were disfranchised. That same year Adams gained even more notoriety when she and cofounders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Fannie Lou Hamer and Annie Devine challenged the legitimacy of the Mississippi delegation—all of whose members were white men—to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The national party offered a compromise under which two MFDP members would be seated along with the Regular Democrats, but the MFDP rejected the deal. Though the attempt to unseat the Regular Democrats failed, the MFDP personalized and highlighted the racial and political tension in Mississippi. In 1968 Adams and her MFDP cofounders became the first African American women seated as guests on the US Senate floor.
Adams’s papers, which chronicle her life as a civil rights pioneer, are held in the University Archives at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The Office of Campus Ministry at Virginia State University, where Adams served as chaplain, holds records relating to her life there. In the documentary Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders, Adams shares the story of her struggle in the civil rights movement.
Adams died on 12 August 2006 at her son’s Baltimore home after a lengthy illness. Her motto was “Life shrinks or expands in direct proportion to the courage with which we live.”
- Joyce Ladner, Crisis (November–December 2006)
- Vicky Crawford, Cross Currents (Summer 2007)
- Victoria Gray Adams (1926–2006), University of Southern Mississippi University Archives website, www.lib.usm.edu/spcol/collections/uarchives