Colorful hats are Alma Adams’ trademark. They make her stand out in a crowd and provided the theme for the first TV ad of her re-election campaign.
“Over the years I’ve worn a lot of different hats,” she says, describing her fights for students, workers and seniors, first in the General Assembly and now in Congress.
Adams faces five Democratic challengers as she fights to retain her seat in a redrawn 12th District on June 7.
In 2014 she won two elections. She was sworn in that November to fill the unexpired term of longtime 12th District Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte and started her own term the following January.
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Adams recently moved from Greensboro to Charlotte. The lawmaker who turns 70 this month says she’s not ready to slow down.
“Absolutely not,” she says. “I’m more energized than ever before.”
Coming to Greensboro
Raised in New Jersey, Adams came to North Carolina after being inspired by early civil rights protests, particularly the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins by four N.C. A&T students.
“You just have to be inspired by them, as young as they were,” she once told a reporter. “You know they had to be scared to death, not just of what might happen but of what their parents might have said.”
She enrolled at A&T, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She started teaching art at Greensboro’s Bennett College in 1972 and went on to earn a doctorate at Ohio State.
Her own work includes prints and silkscreens, some with motifs inspired by her travels to Africa. In 1991, she co-founded the African American Atelier, a nonprofit gallery that showcases black artists.
Serving in Raleigh
Adams first went to the N.C. House in 1994 and stayed for 20 years.
When Democrats controlled the chamber before 2011, she had choice assignments, even co-chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee. She also led the Women’s Legislative Caucus and the Black Caucus.
Her effectiveness, according to the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, peaked at 27th in the 120-member House in 2009. When Republicans took over, it tumbled to 108.
In Raleigh she championed a bill that in 2006 raised the state’s minimum wage. She backed other measures that she said would level the playing field for low- and middle-income families.
Going to Congress
In Congress she’s backed measures to help veterans and small businesses as well as to fight hunger. She also co-sponsored The Equality Act that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to anti-discrimination protections.
Adams touts her ability to work across the aisle in the Republican-controlled Congress. She and a GOP colleague launched the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus to help historically black colleges and universities.
“We’ve gotten a lot done,” she said. “I have delivered consistently throughout my career and people can depend on that.”
Education: N.C. A&T, B.A. and master’s degree in art history, Ph.D. in art education and multicultural education from Ohio State University
Family: Divorced, with two children and four grandchildren
Job: Retired art professor, Bennett College
Politics: U.S. House, 2014-present; N.C. House, 1994-2014; Greensboro City Council, 1987-1994; Greensboro school board, 1984-1986
Worth knowing: In 2014, she became the 100th woman to serve in the U.S. House