Civil rights trailblazer Harvey Adams Jr. laid to rest

candlelightoriginally published: 12th September 2009
all credits: TribLive

Recalled in eulogies as a “trailblazer” for civil rights, an “angel” for area charities and a “magnificent man” who fought for the little man against entrenched racism and privilege, former Pittsburgh NAACP leader Harvey Adams Jr. was laid to rest yesterday afternoon following a two-hour funeral service at the Hill District’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal.

Adams, 80, died late Monday after suffering from several illnesses that left him partially paralyzed. He is survived by wife Shirley; son Harvey Adams III of Blackridge; and daughters Carol Lynn Adams of Wilkinsburg and Nikkisha Wright of Stanton Heights.

A highly decorated Army combat infantryman, Adams returned from the Korean War to fight for the rights of minorities and women in Pittsburgh. Before he retired after 23 years in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, reforms championed by Adams brought increasing numbers of minority and female officers to the force. He later became chief of both the Pittsburgh Housing Authority Police and the Wilkinsburg Police Department, where he served for no salary.

His tenure as president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1976 to 1992 was marked by advocacy of civil rights and his disgust for police brutality and political leaders he felt had failed to tackle chronic poverty, racism and other issues critical to urban America.

“It’s easy to forget the pioneers, the infantrymen in this world,” said Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson as Adams’ body was carried from the chapel. “As a community, we didn’t always remember to put his life into context and appreciate it for what it was while he was alive.

“And today, maybe some of the challenges are different. But we can’t forget what this man meant to generations who truly benefitted from his sacrifice. There isn’t a minority police officer in this region, or an African-American politician of any office, who doesn’t have Harvey Adams directly to thank for that.”

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