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Dr. Dolly Jacqueline Desselle Adams was born on August 18, 1931 in Marksville, Louisiana to Moses John Desselle and Thelma Tucker Desselle (Smith). Her father was an entrepreneur and business owner, with several businesses in and near his hometown of Marksville. Her mother, a New Orleans native, was an educator and civic activist. As their only child, Dr. Adams received a wealth of love from her parents and her close knit extended family. Dr. Adams’ family was central to shaping the woman she would become.
Dr. Adams learned from an early age the importance of education and learning, faith, hard work, and service. These were strongly held values in her family, and she grew up watching them in action. Her parents entered their marriage and started their family during the Great Depression, a time of extraordinary economic hardship in the country. Faith, hard work and education made it possible for them to navigate the significant challenges that they, like so many others, faced during that time.
Dr. Adams’ father worked in his family’s building business, and met Dr. Adams’ mother in New Orleans where she lived and taught. Teachers in the New Orleans school system were not allowed to marry at that time, so the couple moved to Baton Rouge when they married, and eventually settled in Marksville, her father’s family home. Despite the economic challenges of the time, her father launched several successful businesses to support his young family. One of the businesses was a creole cafe in Monroe, Louisiana. Satchel Paige of the Negro baseball leagues was one of their most famous customers.
At the age of four, Dr. Adams started school in Marksville, where her mother was the community’s first Black teacher. Dr. Adams learned to read and write at this early age, and soon after learned how to ride a horse, swim and shoot a gun - things her grandfather told her every girl should know how to do.
Dr. Adams was in middle school when her father’s health began to fail, and he died when she was 13 years old. She had a very close relationship with her father, and did all she could to help her mother care for him during his illness. After this painful loss, Dr. Adams and her mother moved to New Orleans to be nearer to her mother’s family.
In New Orleans, Dr. Adams developed closer relationships with her maternal grandparents and extended family as she spent more time with them. Among her closest playmates were her cousins, and she was especially close to her cousin Ronnie (Tucker). She learned to garden from her grandfather, Albert Tucker, by helping him tend his extensive vegetable garden. He grew so many vegetables that they could share generously with neighbors and friends. Albert Tucker was a pullman car porter, so Dr. Adams was introduced to the close network of Black pullman car porters. She was able to ride the train for free, by herself, to visit family in Marksville, knowing that the porters on board would take care of her. She also became a good cook, learning traditional creole dishes from her mother, grandmother and aunts.
Dr. Adams attended Xavier University Preparatory High School in New Orleans and went on to earn her bachelor’s of science degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge. At Southern she joined the Beta Psi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., studied hard, and also had what she described as “a real good time”. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Education.
After finishing college, Dr. Adams moved back to New Orleans where she taught for a year before deciding to go to graduate school. She planned to attend Louisiana State University but to avoid her attendance and desegregation of the school, the state university system paid for her to attend University of Michigan instead.
Dr. Adams enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she earned a Master’s of Arts degree in Education. After graduation, she went to Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, where she served as chair of the Department of Elementary Education.
It was at Wilberforce that Dr. Adams met her future husband, Bishop John H. Adams (then Reverend Adams). Bishop Adams was on the faculty at Payne Theological Seminary. Their first extended conversation occurred when Bishop Adams and Wilberforce President Charles Leander Hill visited a college seminar she was leading. Bishop Adams peppered her with questions and persisted until she was flustered and annoyed. Over time (and with persuasive courtship), the annoyance was replaced by love, and in 1956, the two were wed at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1956.
After the wedding the newlyweds headed to Waco, Texas where Dr. Adams served as Dean of Students at Paul Quinn College and Bishop Adams served as the college’s new president. During their six years at Paul Quinn they started their family, welcoming Gaye Desselle first, and Jann Hurst a few years later. As a new mother, Dr. Adams learned to juggle the demands of a challenging professional role, taking care of a family, supporting her husband’s career, and volunteering in the community. Her ability to efficiently get things done would serve her well throughout her life.
In 1962, when Bishop Adams was appointed pastor of First A.M.E. Church in Seattle, Washington, Dr. Adams and her young family moved to Seattle. In Seattle, their youngest child, Madelyn Rose, was born. Dr. Adams actively engaged in her new role as first lady at the church and continued her work as an educator, teaching at the elementary school level. Bishop Adams’ leadership in Seattle’s civil rights movement meant that while he traveled Dr. Adams held primary responsibility for ensuring day to day life continued as usual for their girls. Dr. Adams also began her long service to The Links, Incorporated, during this time, when she was inducted into the Seattle (WA) Chapter.
The family was in Seattle for 6 years before moving to Los Angeles, California, when Bishop Adams was appointed pastor at Grant A.M.E. Church. At Grant, which was located in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Dr. Adams led the work of the Grant A.M.E. Ethnic School, which provided Black middle school students with a published curriculum focused on Mathematics, English and Black History, and provided free breakfast and lunch every Saturday morning. The Ethnic School was launched to help develop pride and academic excellence among the young people at the church and in the surrounding community.
Dr. Adams assumed new responsibilities and recognized new opportunities for service when Bishop Adams was elected and consecrated the 87th Bishop of the A.M.E. Church in 1972. She served as Episcopal Supervisor of the Women’s Missionary Society (WMS) and Minister’s Wives in five Episcopal Districts - the Tenth (Texas), Second (Mid-Atlantic States), Sixth (Georgia), Seventh (South Carolina) and Eleventh (Florida & the Bahamas) - over a span of 32 years. Dr. Adams earned her Ed.D. from Baylor University while serving in the Tenth Episcoal District.
In her many leadership roles, Dr. Adams focused on addressing critical needs of the Black community and strengthening the capacity of the organizations she led. Her work with WMS included support to foster care and adoption, support for cancer research, digging water wells in Africa, and establishing day care centers for the children of homeless and abused women. She was instrumental in establishing and funding the only African American Adoption Center in South Carolina, administered by the Reid House of Christian Service. In recognition of her service in South Carolina, the Governor presented her with the Order of the Palmetto, the highest citation given by the State to a Citizen.
Dr. Adams committed over 60 years of service with The LInks, Incorporated, as a member of 6 chapters, and in many leadership roles. She served as the organization’s Eighth National President from 1982-1986. During her tenure, Dr. Adams strengthened the organization by purchasing a building for a national headquarters in Washington, D.C. and completing the establishment of The Links Foundation, accomplishments that solidified the organization’s national presence and enhanced its philanthropic work. She also formed a groundbreaking partnership with Africare that led to the creation of water wells in 75 rural African villages. Dr. Adams supported the growth of the organization, overseeing the establishment of many new chapters across the country. Dr. Adams led the Links delegation to the United Nations 1985 World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya and obtained NGO status for the organization from the United Nations. Her long service with The Links, Incorporated, reflected her life-long commitment to friendship and service.
Dr. Adams also served five years as National President of the Black Women’s Agenda, Inc. (BWA). She served on the Board of Directors of the United Negro College Fund, Paul Quinn College, BWA, the WMS Foundation, WHMM TV (Howard University), the Southern University Foundation, the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation. From 1982-1986, Dr. Adams was cited as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine, and Dollars & Sense Magazine named her as one of the Top 100 Black Business and Professional Women of 1986 and 1987.
As Dr. Adams moved across the country, she expanded her network of friends and “adopted family” in each new place. She and Bishop Adams welcomed many into their home and family, and their lives were enriched by the relationships with these chosen sisters, brothers, daughters and sons.
Dr. Adams was blessed with a 63 year marriage with her devoted husband, Bishop John H. Adams. They were the proud grandparents of eight grandchildren - Amina Desselle Massey, Mitchell Gino Brogdon, Jr. (Melissa), John Hurst Adams Brogdon (Courtney), A. Kamau Adams Massey, Malcolm Moses Adams Brogdon (Victoria), Harrison Avery Adams Cobb (Anna), Timothy Fitzgerald Stephenson Cobb, Jr., and Nyah Estelle Adams Massey. The grandchildren all have strong memories of spending time with their “Meanne” at the beach, her delicious seafood gumbo, warm hugs and pointed questions about their report cards and academic efforts.
Dr. Adams was thrilled to welcome four great grandchildren in the last few years - Cassius Elle Brogdon, Marlee Elizabeth Adams Brogdon, Banks Helena Brogdon, and Mitchell Gino Brogdon, III.
Dr. Adams also shared a special relationship with her extended family, particularly her nieces and nephews - Eugene Avery Adams, III, Eugene’s wife Gina Adams, and their son, Spenser Avery Adams; Leigh Adams Slaughter and her daughter, Kelsey Olivia Slaughter; and Stanley Armstead Earley and Judith Edna Earley. She also cherished her relationships with her cousins Ronnie and Pete Tucker, all her Tucker and Desselle cousins, her lifelong friends Ambassador Andrew Young and Dr. Walter Young, and her many other dear friends.
Dr. Adams is survived by her three daughters, Gaye Adams Massey, Jann H. Adams, and Madelyn R. Adams, her son-in-law Dr. Harold E. Massey, her grandchildren & their spouses, her great-grandchildren, her dear friends, and her extended “chosen” family.