Born in High Point, North Carolina on May 27, 1946, Alma Adams earned a bachelor’s degree (1968) and a master’s degree (1972) in art education from North Carolina A&T State University, and a PhD in art/multicultural education from Ohio State University (1981). From 1972-2012, she was a Professor of Art at Bennett College in North Carolina.
A lifelong Democrat, Adams launched her political career in 1987 when she began a seven-year stint with the Greensboro City Council. She subsequently served in the North Carolina State House of Representatives from 1994-2014. And in 2014 she was elected to fill the U.S. Congressional seat (representing North Carolina’s 12th District) that Democrat Melvin Watt, who was resigning his post, had held for the previous 21 years.
During the run-up to the 2014 election, Adams’s campaign website emphasized the candidate’s longstanding reputation as a stalwart champion of “reproductive rights”: “She has been clear in all of her comments, that women should make the choice about their body [sic], and that a woman cannot call herself free if she does not own and control her own body.” Among the leading backers of Adams’s campaign was the abortion-rights group EMILY’s List.
In October 2014 in Charlotte, Adams appeared at a campaign event for incumbent U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina). Hagan’s political machine had recently run a radio ad smearing her Republican challenger, State House Speaker Thom Tillis, as someone who “opposed raising the minimum wage,” favored “tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations,” “made it harder for communities of color to vote by restricting early voting and voter registration,” and “led the effort to pass the type of ‘Stand Your Ground’ rules that caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.” (The latter was a reference to a February 2012 incident where a “white Hispanic” man in Florida had shot and killed a black teenager in a confrontation that gained national publicity.) At the Hagan rally, Adams—using an epithet typically applied to a black person who is viewed as being excessively subservient to whites—derided Tillis (who is white) as “’Uncle Tom’ Tillis.”
Claiming that “our country still pays women only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes,” Adams contends that “there is much more we need to do to ensure [that] women receive equal pay for equal work.” “If this were in the reverse, and men made less than women,” she told ThinkProgress in November 2014, “we wouldn’t even be talking about it because we would have resolved it by now! I really believe that.”
Adamantly “oppose[d]” to “any school voucher program” that would empower low-income, inner-city parents to send their children to private schools rather than to the mostly abysmal public schools in their local neighborhoods, Adams instead pledges to “always fight” to obtain maximum government funding for public schools.
Embracing the premise that the greenhouse gases emitted by human industrial activity are major contributors to potentially catastrophic global warming, Adams calls for “investing in more renewable energy sources and green technology” to “combat climate change.”
Additional high priorities for Adams include her desire to pass legislation raising the minimum wage to the level of a “living wage,” and to increase government assistance for the unemployed.
Adams condemned the 2013 Supreme Court decision which struck down a 1965 Voting Rights Act provision that had required mainly Southern states—based on the presumption of their continuing racist tendencies—to undergo special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their election laws in any way (e.g., instituting Voter ID requirements or reconfiguring their voting districts). As the Heritage Foundation explains: “The Supreme Court said the formula that determined which states were covered [by the mandate of special scrutiny] was unconstitutional because it was based on 40-year-old data: registration and turnout in the 1964, 1968, and 1972 elections…. Times have changed, and the widespread, official discrimination that caused large disparities in black and white voter turnout have long since disappeared.”
Adams has disparaged North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), which requires voters to present a photo ID at the polls, as the “Voter Intimidation and Vilification Act.” By Adams’s telling, this “regressive” and “punitive” legislation has a disparate impact on nonwhite minorities and the poor.
Adams supported President Barack Obama‘s November 2014 “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans” executive action on immigration, which stipulated that the U.S. would not deport any of the millions of illegal immigrants who “[have] been in America more than five years”; who “have children who are American citizens or legal residents”; and who can “pass a criminal background check and [be] willing to pay [their] fair share of taxes.” Advocating immigration reform measures that would offer a pathway-to-citizenship for anyone residing in the United States illegally, Adams said: “I applaud the President for using his executive authority to address our broken immigration system.”
In May 2017, Adams joined fellow black legislators in calling for a federal civil-rights investigation after an unidentified person had hung at least five bananas from nooses on trees and lampposts on the campus of American University. Scrawled on the bananas were references to a historically black sorority on campus, and to a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. The incident coincided with the first full day on which Taylor Dumpson took over as the first black female ever to serve as the University’s student body president. Said Adams: “What happened at American University is tragic. A young woman’s historic achievement has been clouded by hatred and bigotry. This incident is just the latest in a string of atrocities sweeping our nation. It’s not a coincidence since President Trump’s election that we’ve experienced a wave of intolerance and divide.”
On July 19, 2022, Adams was one of at least 17 House Democrats who were arrested outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, where they were attending an abortion-rights rally to protest the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Those arrested included the following:
Adams is currently a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and is a life member of the NAACP. For an overview of her voting record on a wide range of key issues, click here.
Further Reading: “Alma Adams” (Votesmart.org); Alma Adams’s positions on Abortion, Civil Rights, and Education (OnTheIssues.org); “Emily’s List Candidates Staying Mum on Abortion Rights” (Newsmax.com, 7-14-2014); “With Race A Dead Heat, Pro-Hagan Ad Ties Tillis To Trayvon Martin Shooting” (Townhall.com, 10-27-2014); “At Hagan Rally, GOP Senate Candidate Called ‘Uncle Tom’” (Washington Free Beacon, 10-28-2014); “Meet Alma Adams, Who Becomes The 100th Woman In Congress Today” (ThinkProgress, 11-12-2014); “Transcript: President Obama’s immigration address” (CNN, 11-21-2014); “Black Members of Congress Demand Probe of Nooses at AU” (Associated Press, 5-4-2017).