William C. Samuel Adams, 72, chronicled black communities

October 26, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

William Crawford Samuel Adams, a retired administrator of the city's school bus system and a historian of Baltimore County African-American communities, died of cancer Saturday at Gil- christ Center for Hospice Care. The Columbia resident was 72.

Born in Lutherville, Mr. Adams grew up in a historically African-American neighborhood on Bellona Avenue. He later researched the lives of the families who lived there and published his findings.

He attended the old Lutherville Colored School -- and years later was named director of a museum created at the former segregated school.

In 1950, he quit Carver High School in Towson to join the Maryland National Guard's black unit, the Monumental City Guard. He served in a segregated trucking battalion in Virginia, where he and members of his unit appeared as extras in a 1952 war film, Red Ball Express, with Jeff Chandler and a 25-year-old Sidney Poitier. Mr. Adams later contributed his military service recollections to a book, Forgotten Road Warriors, by his friend, Louis S. Diggs.

After his military service, Mr. Adams completed his high school education through the GED program and earned a degree from LaSalle Extension University.

He worked for the city school system more than 30 years, retiring in 1997 as chief of school bus operations. Family members said he oversaw 26 school bus contracts for special-education students on nearly 400 routes.

Mr. Adams became interested in family history while watching a television miniseries based on Alex Haley's best-selling book, Roots.

"Based on the lingering impact of the series, I decided to investigate the roots of my Adams ancestry," he wrote five years ago of his family, who once lived on the Eastern Shore.

"I was pessimistic about finding any information, but I wanted to try. I thought I would hit a dead end with the slavery period. How wrong I was," he wrote. "I was able to discover a rich heritage of freedom extending back over 300 years. The more I researched, the more I found about the fascinating life of free blacks in Colonial Virginia and Maryland."

He traced his lineage to Peter Beckett, a slave, and his wife, Sarah Dawson, an indentured servant on a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The results of that work were published in the 2000 book, Free Born -- 350 Years of Eastern Shore African American History -- The Adams/Beckett Family.

He continued his research and self-published books on the history of Lutherville's African-American community and a history of Baltimore County's segregated schools. Using census records from 1860 to 1930, he compiled a list of the county's African-American residents.

"This guy had so much information, and he was so generous in sharing what he knew," said Mr. Diggs, a local historian and author based in Owings Mills. "He wanted more people to be aware of our history."

Mr. Adams recently donated his library of 200 books to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture in the Inner Harbor. His donation is to be named the William Adams Special Collection.

He also was a practitioner of the martial arts, achieving the rank of sixth-degree black belt in Shorin-Ryu karate. He taught many young men and women at a Cherry Hill club called the Avengers, later running Shibumi martial arts studios in Park Circle and in Columbia.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s he taught T'ai Chi Chuan to seniors at the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. He also enjoyed motorcycling, horseback riding and camping.

A celebration of his life will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Meeting House, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, 5885 Robert Oliver Place in Columbia.

He is survived by his wife of 26 years, the former Carolyn Greenfield; four sons, Ali Hassan of Altadena, Calif., William Samuel Adams Jr. and Reginald Adams, both of Baltimore, and Bryan Adams of Haddonfield, N.J.; a daughter, Yolanda Robinson of Columbia; two brothers, Allan Adams of Lutherville and Maynard Adams of Baltimore; a sister, Celeste Adams of Lutherville; 32 grandchildren; and 19 great grandchildren. A daughter, Montressa Clarke, died in 1994. His marriage to Bernice Ollie Williams ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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