Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Family's documents teach slice of history


Henry and Willa Adams, in a family photo from the late 1930s or early 1940s, were active in the community and well-liked.


A family is helping teach central Ohio schoolchildren and others how African-Americans lived from the 1940s to the 1980s because of records the family kept about their life in Toledo.

The records and other artifacts of Henry and Willa Adams were turned over to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus about two years ago, officials said.

They said the documents show an African-American community coming into its own with more mobility than one would have found in Southern states.

Cynthia Ghering, a historical society official, said schools in the Columbus area have used the documents to "give a face" to African-American history.

She said the collection was brought to the society's attention by Nikki Taylor, a professor at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and former visiting professor at the University of Toledo. Ms. Ghering said a home the Adamses owned on Rushland Avenue was being auctioned, and Ms. Taylor asked the society what it found in the house.

"[Ms. Taylor] was looking for African-American newspapers," Ms. Ghering said. "She said she tried to find someone in Toledo who would be interested in the family collection and couldn't find anyone. She called us, and we jumped in our van and drove" to Toledo.

Ms. Ghering said what historians found were receipts, records, and documents of personal and public events in Toledo's black community.

The Adamses moved to Toledo in 1942, became members of Mount Zion Baptist Church, and were charter members of United Missionary Baptist Church, according to Mr. Adams' obituary.

Mr. Adams, who was from Daytona Beach, Fla., was a shoemaker for 75 years before dying in 1999 at 96. Ms. Ghering said the historical society found records that he also bought homes and rented out rooms.

Mrs. Adams, who had a teaching certificate from Georgia, was a cook for a paving contractor, Arthur Langenderfer, and his wife, Mary Lucille, in Ottawa Hills.

Mrs. Adams, with her husband's help, ran a catering business for 30 years and was a board member with the Toledo branch of the NAACP.

Mrs. Adams retired from catering in 1981 but stayed in touch with the Langenderfers until she died in 1988 at 75.

"We found an ongoing relationship between them," Mrs. Ghering said.

Mrs. Ghering said through numerous events the Adamses attended and kept records about, the society was able to document some events in Toledo history as well.

She said a newsletter dated Sept. 18, 1967, and called the "Soul Brother Bulletin," was found. It documented a civil rights march in Toledo, a rally, and a planned speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., on Sept. 22, 1967.

"What we found that was really exciting were these church programs," Ms. Ghering said. "We knew it must have been important to them or they wouldn't have kept them. We found that Ms. Adams catered at many of the churches we found programs for."

Former Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Franklin said he remembers the couple as active in the community and well-liked.

"They were nice people," Judge Franklin said. "It had to be in the 1950s, [Mrs. Adams] was catering some event for us and I recall her saying she had some space in her home where she could serve us instead of going some other place. At that time, you didn't have all of the places we eat out at today."

The collection "shows mobility" for African-Americans, Ms. Ghering said. "It showed if you worked hard, you could take advantage of opportunities or make your own opportunities."

Robert Smith, founder of the African American Legacy Project, a local group of educators and historians formed last year to collect history of local African-American families, said he hopes the Adams family collection is just the start of similar discoveries that will be invaluable to local black history.

He said the family collection demonstrates a need to gather such history before it's lost.

"It's exciting to know that they've identified people who have documented their experience so well," Mr. Smith said. "We started our organization because we realized there was this gap in history on African-Americans."

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

or 419-724-6095.

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