From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Adams, Cyrus Field

(born: August 25, 1858  -  died: February 18, 1942) 

Cyrus Field Adams

By Reinette F. Jones 05/08/2016

Cyrus F. Adams, born in Louisville, KY, was an author, a historian, a teacher, a newspaper man, a linguist, a businessman, a dedicated Republican, and a civil rights advocate who used the newspaper to speak out against racism and prejudices. He also served as the Assistant Register of the U.S. Treasury. Cyrus Adams was a teacher as early as 1879, when he taught at the Western Colored School [source: p.75 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville]. Cyrus was the brother of J. Q. Adams, with whom he assisted in the management of the Bulletin newspaper in Louisville, KY. The newspaper existed from 1879-1885. The brothers went on to manage newspapers in several other cities. Cyrus and John Q. Adams were two of the four children of Henry Adams (born in Georgia) and Margaret P. Corbin Adams (born in Virginia). Everyone in the family is listed as mulatto in the 1870 Census, and the household included Nancy Adams, age 64, and Mary Adams, age 60, both of whom were born in Georgia. Cyrus Adams had been a slave, his former owner's name, which may be German, is given on Cyrus' Freedman's Bank Record application dated December 23, 1867 [source: record in]. The application also has a description of Cyrus' complexion, noted as "very bright."

In June of 1884, Cyrus F. Adams applied for a passport for travel to Europe, and Felix W. Sweeny vouched for Adam's loyalty to the U.S. and his travel intentions [source: U.S. Passport Application in]. Cyrus' birth date on the application is give as 18 July 1858. He travel some, but his greater international travel plans would materialize later in his life. Cyrus F. Adams would leave Kentucky for brief stays in cities such as St. Paul, MN, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. It was in Chicago, IL, where Cyrus F. Adams would put down more permanent roots and become a teacher and a newspaper publisher. In 1888, he assisted his brother John Q. Adams with the distribution of the The Appeal newspaper that had been established in St. Paul, MN; Cyrus was the editor and manager of The Appeal newspaper operation in Chicago. The newspaper would become the most-read African American newspaper in Chicago during the late 1800s. After the turn of the century, the popularity of the newspaper began to decline, and the Chicago office of The Appeal newspaper closed in 1913 [sources: Freedom's Ballot by M. Garb, chapter 2: Setting Agendas / Demanding Rights, and the Black Press, pp.49-83; The Southern Argus, 12/31/1891, p.1, col.1, paragraph 10; Western Appeal, a website; and The Appeal newspaper was popular in 20th Century Black America, website].

While he was managing the newspaper office in Chicago in 1888, Cyrus F. Adams was also a lecturer and a teacher. He is listed in the city directory as a teacher who was boarding at 2974 Dearborn Street [source: p.117 in The Richardson and Boyton Company, The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago 1888]. He was known for his ability to speak fluent German, and his ability to teach German to adults in the classroom. In 1888, Cyrus F. Adams offered a six-week course in German language: reading, writing, and speaking [source: Fannie Barrier Williams: crossing the borders of region and race by W. A. Hendricks, p.55]. The German class met for four hours a day, five days a week. At the end of the six-week sessions, a reading was held at Lincoln Hall, hosted by Professor Cyrus F. Adams. He had also held German classes in Washington, D.C. in 1887, and in Louisville, KY in 1884 [source: "Cyrus F. Adams," Washington Bee, 05/28/1887, p.3; and "General news in brief," The State Journal (Harrisburg, PA), 06/14/1884, p.1, col.7, paragraph 8].

Cyrus F. Adams had big aspirations for moving ahead and going abroad using his linguistic skills. In addition to being able to speak fluent German, he also spoke fluent Spanish and other languages. In 1897, with very good recommendations, Cyrus F. Adams sought to become the first African American named U.S. Minister to Bolivia, South America [source: B. R. Justesen, "African-American consuls abroad, 1897-1909," Foreign Service Journal, September 2004, pp.72-76 ~ online at DocSlide]. But the time was not right for such a move and Cyrus F. Adams was denied the position. Charles Henry James Taylor had also sought to be the first African American named to a diplomatic appointment in Bolivia during the second term (1893-1897) of Democrat President Grover Cleveland. Taylor had served as the U.S. Minister to Liberia, Africa during President Cleveland's first term (1885-1889), and though he was selected to head the U.S. Mission to Bolivia, the U.S. Senate vetoed the move, and in consolation, Taylor was given the government job of Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia (D.C.). A few years later, when Cyrus F. Adams sought to become the U.S. Minister to Bolivia during Republican President William McKinley's term (1897-1901), there was still the fear and opposition to naming an African American diplomat to a white country. The McKinley administration considered Bolivia a white country.

In spite of the setback, Cyrus F. Adams continued to be a staunch Republican with aspirations to advance as far as possible in Washing, D.C., at the same time, he was a dedicated newspaperman. Around 1900, he maintained a home in Chicago while also living in Washing, D.C. As early as 1888, he is listed in the Chicago city directory, and his name continued to be listed in the directory up to the 1947 South-West Street Guide published by the Chicago City Directory, Inc. Cyrus F. Adams always lived and worked in the Dearborn Street area of Chicago, and in 1947, he lived at 542 Dearborn. Meanwhile, in Washington, D. C., in the 1910 Census, Cyrus F. Adams is listed as a lodger at the home of Daniel A. Murray. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, Daniel A. P. Murray was an assistant to the Librarian of Congress, which was a government job [source: Library of Congress website].

Cyrus F. Adams, who was single, also held a government job. He had been employed in Washington, D.C. since at least 1901, at a salary of $2,250 as the Assistant Register in the U.S. Treasury Office [source: p.89 in the Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service, July 1, 1901, Volume 1]. Cyrus F. Adams had been living in Chicago when he got the job as Assistant Register at the U.S. Treasury, the appointment was made by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. While in Washing D. C., Cyrus F. Adams was named to a number of committees and attended functions given at the White House. In 1905, he was named to the General Committee in charge of the Inauguration Ceremonies for President Theodore Roosevelt who had been elected for a second term [source: "Committees in Charge of Inauguration Ceremonies," The Washington Post, 03/04/1905, p.5]. Cyrus F. Adams was on the Republican National Committee during the planning of the Inaugural Ceremonies in 1905 [source: "Inaugural Day music," The Washington Post, 01/26/1905, p.2]. In 1907, Cyrus, along with his brother and sister-in-law, John Q. and Mrs. Adams, all were in attendance at the Reception for Judges [source: "Reception to Judges: President and Mrs. Roosevelt greet the judiciary," The Washington Post, 01/18/1907, pp.1 & 12]. Cyrus F. Adams continued to be listed as the Assistant Register at the U.S. Treasury, in both the official register and the city directories [sources: p.37 in Official Register: persons in the civil, military, and naval service of the United States, and list of vessels, 1911, Volume I, Directory; and  p.105 in 56th Year of Boyd's Directory of the District of Columbia 1914 ~ (published after Cyrus F. Adams' resignation in 1912)].

Also in 1905, Cyrus F. Adams was elected president of the newly formed Washington Philatelic Society [sources: "Philatelists organize," The Washington Post, 12/12/1905, p.3; and Washington Stamp Collection Club website]. The purpose of the society was to "encourage and promote the collection of all kinds of postage stamps and postal cards, and to meet at given intervals for the discussion of questions relating thereto." Cyrus F. Adams was re-elected as president of the society the following year [source: "Stamp collectors elect," The Washington Post, 12/12/1906, p.11]. In addition to stamp collecting, Cyrus F. Adams was a civil rights activist and a historian who documented the activities of civil rights organizations and the life of selected African American men. In 1902, he wrote the book The National Afro-American Council, Organized 1898: a history etc.; Cyrus F. Adams was secretary of the Council. That same year he wrote "Col. William Pledger," an article in the Colored American Magazine, June 1902," and he wrote "George L. Knox: his life and work," in the Colored American Magazine, October 1902. The following year he wrote the article "The Afro-American Council, the story of its organization -- What it stands for -- Its personnel," Colored American Magazine, March 1903.  In 1912, he authored the book title The Republican Party and the Afro-American: a book of facts and figures [available full-text online at]. His other organization work included being elected President of the National Afro-American Press Association in July of 1903 (the organization's first conference had been held in Louisville in 1880) [sources: Along the Color Line: explorations in the Black experience by A. Meier and D. L. Lewis]. Cyrus F. Lewis also served as the transportation agent of the National Negro Business League.

Cyrus F. Adams' was loyal to the Republican Party, which lead to his resignation as Assistant Register in 1912. He was leaving to work on Republican President William H. Taft's re-election campaign. When President Taft first came into office in 1909, he had kept Cyrus F. Adams as Assistant Register until 1912. President Taft asked Cyrus F. Adams to resign his post and assist with the Taft re-election campaign, and there was a promise of future civil service employment. The request was a ploy by President Taft to get Cyrus F. Adams out of the U.S. Treasury Office, because President Taft had promised the Assistant Register's position to another African American supporter from Arkansas who had shown loyalty to the Republican Party and to President Taft [source: Racism in the Nation's Service: government workers and the color line in Woodrow Wilson's America by E. S. Yellin]. After the election, in July of 1913, Cyrus F. Adams received a civil service job in the Chicago Customs House, thanks to President Taft, who, as it turned out, lost the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson [source: Catalogue of the Public Documents of the 63rd Congress, July 1, 1911 to June 30, 1913, Accounts Committee - Adams, p.5 ~ online at Google Books].

When President Wilson came into office, he replaced the Republican employees who had served during the Taft administration. John Skelton Williams, a southern segregationist who served as President Wilson's Comptroller of the Currency, ordered an investigation of Cyrus F. Adam's record as Assistant Register. It was an attempt to attack Cyrus F. Adams' career and his success as a black man. The result of the investigation was a supposed rumor from 1911 that Cyrus F. Adams had had an improper relationship with a white woman named Violet McKee. Cyrus F. Adams survived the accusations and kept his job at the Chicago Customs House. This was not the first time that Cyrus F. Adams had had to fight off rumors. In 1907, he was accused of passing for white in order to get and keep his job as Assistant Register in the U.S. Treasury [source: "Cyrus Field Adams not passing for white," Cleveland Journal, 06/22/1907, p.1 [clipping online at the African-American Experience in Ohio].

Once back in Chicago full-time, Cyrus F. Adams continued as a shareholder (5 shares) of stock in the Washington Railway & Electric Co. [source: House Documents, 63rd Congress, 3rd Session, December 7, 1914-March 4, 1915, v.107, issue 6892, Document No.1545, "Washington Railway & Electric Co.," p.4 ~ online at Google Books]. In November of 1914, Cyrus F. Adams again applied for a passport [source: U.S. Passport Application in]. He gave his permanent address as Chicago. IL. and his occupation was Inspector of Customs. He applied for a passport in preparation for a pleasure tour of Cuba, Colombia, Panama, Jamaica, and Central America. The tour was only one of many for Cyrus F. Adams who continue to frequently travel to Central and South America, and to Europe, until about 1931. His name was among the returning passengers aboard the ship Fort St. George, sailing from Trinidad, B.W.I [British West Indies] on March 19, 1931, and arriving in New York, NY, USA, March 28, 1931 [source: Form 630, U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service, Page 2, List of United States Citizens ~ in]. Cyrus F. Adams' name is on the passenger list, he was 72 years and 8 months old.

On July 28, 1938, Cyrus Field Adams made a life claim with the U.S. Social Security Office [source: U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index in]. A life claim is when an applicant applies for disability or retirement benefits. On the application, Cyrus F. Adams birth date is given as 13 September 1878; his actual birth date was 18 July 1858. There is a death record for Cyrus Field Adams in the Manitoba (Canada) Death Index, his birth date is given as 25 August 1857, and his death date is given as 18 February 1942. According to the death record at the Manitoba Vital Statistic website, Cyrus Field Adams died in the city of Winnipeg.

Kentucky County & Region

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Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Caron's directory of the city of Louisville (annual)
NKAA Entry: Adams, John Quincy "J.Q."
NKAA Source: Bulletin (Louisville, KY) (newspaper)
NKAA Entry: Adams, Henry
NKAA Source: The Appeal (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Freedom's ballot: African American political struggles in Chicago from abolition to the Great Migration
NKAA Source: The Southern argus (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Lakeside annual directory of the city of Chicago (serial)
NKAA Source: Fannie Barrier Williams: crossing the borders of region and race
NKAA Source: The Washington bee (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The State journal (Harrisburg, PA) (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Chicago southwest street guide, 1947
NKAA Source: Official register of the United States, containing a list of the officers and employees in the civil, military, and naval service ...(biennial)
NKAA Source: The Washington post (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Official register: persons in the civil, military, and naval service of the United States, and list of vessels (biennial)
NKAA Source: Boyd's directory of the District of Columbia (serial)
NKAA Source: The National Afro-American Council, organized 1898. A history of the organization, its objects, synopses of proceedings, constitution and by-laws, plan of organization, annual topics, etc.
NKAA Source: The Colored American magazine (periodical)
NKAA Source: Along the color line, explorations in the Black experience [essays]
NKAA Source: Racism in the nation's service: government workers and the color line in Woodrow Wilson's America

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry: National Afro-American Council

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Adams, Cyrus Field,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 15, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-10-24 18:31:50