Biography of Rev. Dr. Alger L. Adams '32, D.D.'83
It was September 1928 when a bright, promising young man from Omaha, Nebraska arrived in Geneva, only to discover that Hobart College, which had granted him a scholarship, would not house him because he was black.
But despite the de facto segregation of the era and the financial plight of the Great Depression, this young man excelled. He triple-majored in Greek, English and psychology, served as an assistant in the psychology department and published his undergraduate research in the American Journal of Psychology -- all while washing dishes in local restaurants, polishing fixtures on campus and working other jobs to support himself. And with the encouragement of the African-American community in Geneva, which welcomed him with open arms, the Rev. Dr. Alger L. Adams ’32 became the first black man to receive a degree from Hobart, graduating magna cum laude and named to Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduation, Adams was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, joining the ranks of the greatest names in African-American art and literature in the 1930s and ’40s, like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. DuBois and Ralph Ellison. Although his academic distinctions won him a scholarship to the Harvard School of Business, Adams ultimately decided to attend the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan -- both because of his commitment to the priesthood as well as his understanding of the scarce opportunities available for an African-American with an MBA in 1934. He graduated from the seminary and between 1947 and 1955 helped build two churches, St. Francis (now St. Francis & St. Martha’s) in Greenburgh, N.Y. and St. Augustine’s (now Holy Cross) in Yonkers, N.Y.
While studying for the clergy, Adams met his future wife, Jessie Wells, and in 1950 the couple purchased a weekly paper, The Westchester County Press. Their daughter, Patricia Adams, noted that it always bothered her father to accept pay for his work in the church, and eventually he left the active ministry. Though he continued to minister in interim and part-time positions, Adams was drawn to civil rights causes through the development of the newspaper, which he built to give the African-American community a cohesive voice.
As Adams and his wife ran The Westchester County Press, they developed and built The Creative Printery in 1962. Specializing in the publication of high school and college newspapers, The Creative Printery offered a teaching environment for students to learn about printing and production. During this time, Adams earned a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia University, which led to some colleges accrediting the work students performed at The Creative Printery.
In addition to his many professional accomplishments, Adams wrote two novels, painted 12 oil paintings (10 of which were displayed in Houghton House during Reunion 2002), played the piano and the guitar, and was active in a variety of civil rights, professional and community organizations and initiatives, including as a lifetime member of the National Association For The Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 2008, Adams’s sermons and other manuscripts were auctioned at Swann Galleries.
In 1983, HWS awarded Adams an honorary Doctorate of Divinity, in recognition of his remarkable career and service to his community. His legacy as the first black graduate of Hobart College resonates today in the Colleges’ “commitment…to encourage and to seek diversity in its student body,” according to the citation conferred with the degree.
Hobart continues to honor its first black graduate through the annual Alger Adams Excellence Award Dinner, held each February, celebrating those students of color and international students who, like Adams himself, have had to overcome major obstacles to become academically successful.
The Rev. Dr. Adams passed away in 1992 at the age of 82.