A Biography of John Adams, Jr.

John Adams, Jr. (1906-1999) of North Omaha was a member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1935–1941.

John Adams, Jr. (1906-1999) was a lawyer who became a legislator in the last session of the Nebraska House of Representatives, and the only and African American member of the first session, and the first African American member of the Nebraska unicameral.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina on August 14, 1906, Adams was raised in North Omaha and was one of the first Black law school graduates from a Nebraska college.

He was a Republican who served the Ninth District. Adams was the first second-generation Black lawyer in Nebraska, and later served as an honorary sergeant at arms in the 1936 Republican National Convention. After he left his seat early to join the war effort, his father, Rev. John Adams, Sr. was inspired to run for the Nebraska Legislature. John Adams, Jr. resigned from the Nebraska legislature in late 1935, when he moved out of the district he represented.

As an attorney, John Adams, Jr. kept and office in downtown Omaha at 15th and Douglas. In a 1982 interview, Adams said that one day in 1937, he and his wife went into a restaurant near his office and the man behind the counter ignored them at first. Then he said he would not serve them. The man called the police when Adams reminded him about Nebraska’s Civil Rights law, telling the police there was a “disturbance here by a colored person.” A police officer came and told the counter worker to take their order and then left. When their burgers came, they were smothered in salt. Adams complained and the worker said, “I’m serving you.” Leaving the restaurant, Adams wrapped the burgers and went to the police station to file a civil rights complaint. The police department told him there weren’t any forms for that, so Adams went to his office and typed up his own report. Then he took the burgers to a chemist that worked for the City of Omaha, who determined they were smothered and inedible because of the salt. Adams was ready for a court battle when he took the complaint to a judge. The cook was arrested and fined $40. However, the restaurant’s lawyers asked him to withdraw the complaint on the condition that Omaha’s restaurants would change their racist practices refusing to serve African American. Adams agreed.

—Story from the August 28, 1982 Omaha World-Herald, “Charter member once opposed unicameral,” p. 17.

He served again in the Unicameral in 1937, but resigned in 1943 to serve in the Army during WWII. He served as a Judge Advocate at a military camp.

Adams died on April 19, 1999 in Oakland, California.

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