Meet Oscar William Adams Jr., The First African-American Supreme Court Justice Appointed In Alabama



The first African-American Supreme Court Justice appointed in Alabama was Oscar William Adams Jr. He also made history by becoming the first African-American to win a full term election for a statewide constitutional position. Throughout his legal career, Adams also handled numerous civil rights matters in court and was a member of the state’s first completely African-American law firm.

Adams, the oldest child of Oscar William Adams and Ella Virginia Adams, was conceived on February 7, 1925, in Birmingham, Alabama. He attended various Birmingham public institutions, including A.H. Parker High School, and earned a successful degree in philosophy from Talladega College in 1944. Racial segregation made it impossible for African-Americans to enroll in Alabama’s law school.

Adams enrolled at the Washington, D.C.-based Howard University School of Law for this purpose, and he graduated in 1947. His legal career, which lasted more than 50 years, began after he was admitted to the Alabama State Bar. He married Willa Ingersoll Adams at this time, and they had three children. Adams later remarried Anne-Marie Bradford after the tragic death of Willa in 1982.

Adams handled a lot of labor and civil rights matters throughout his tenure. Among his clients were the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership, Fred Shuttleworth’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and the extremely well-known Martin Luther King Jr. (NAACP). His business also took on lawsuits involving voting rights, desegregation, and other forms of discrimination.

Adams had the chance to join the Birmingham Bar Association, a local bar association for professionals, on July 8, 1966. Adams managed his litigation until he teamed up with the white lawyer Harvey Burg in 1967 to create the state’s first integrated law firm.

Adams was chosen by Governor Forrest James to serve the final two years of Justice James’ unfinished term on the Supreme Court in 1980 after serving for twenty years as a judge. Adams continued to work diligently on matters pertaining to civil rights, discrimination, and many high-end cases after being appointed as Alabama’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

Adams departed from the bench on October 31, 1993, and Ralph D. Cook, the state’s second African American justice, took his place. Oscar William Adams passed away from cancer-related complications on February 15, 1997, in Birmingham, Alabama.


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