Pittsburgh will soon say goodbye to one of its most prominent figures and advocates for Black business. At a time when Black business was understated and to some unthinkable, John H. Adams was determined to show that there was a place for it.

On June 5, Adams, 86, died of a massive brain hemorrhage after being ill for a long period of time.


“We were life long friends. I never met a man who never had a bad thing to say about anyone. He was always positive,” said Louis “Hop” Kendrick. “He had been sick so long and was always close to death, but he always recovered. Not this time. He loved his family, his children, his community and his people. He was just one of those guys. He will sadly be missed and will not be duplicated in the near future.”

Adams, a Hill District native, was a graduate of Schenley High School and the Pinkerton Business School. He was married to the late Margaret Colbert and together they had two daughters, Laura Adams-Hunt and Cynthia Adams-Glenn. He also served in the United States Army, being stationed in China, Burma and India during World War II. While in the Army, Adams was also a reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier.

While he gave his all to his country, his heart belonged to his family, his community and the business industry. He later opened the John H. Adams Agency, which specialized in insurance, sales, advertising, public relations and notary.

“He was a true salesman. He was always selling and promoting his (Black) people,” said Kendrick. During the 1960s, Adams published “The New Negro Directory,” which was a directory of Black businesses.

While Adams’ family had few words to say, Hunt said, “He strongly believed in economic development and entrepreneurship. He believed in it long before it was a popular thought.” They also said in a release, that, “his vision for over three decades was to have the minority business community realize ‘a proportionally larger share of the market in the area.’ For many years he matched minority entre­preneurs with major companies in an effort to make free enterprise fair game for all business owners.”

In 1968, Adams became coordinator of economic development for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and then later was appointed director of the Pittsburgh Business Resource Center. While director, Adams began a new component of the center, called the Pittsburgh Regional Minority Council, which is now known as the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council. The council was created to encourage local and national purchasing of goods and services from minority business owners. It was one of the first councils of its kind to be established in the United States.

Alexander “Nick” Nichols Jr., the CEO and president of the Minority Supplier Development Council, said, “I met Mr. Adams in 1979 when I came to Pittsburgh. He was the original executive director of this council and I’m standing on his shoulders today. He was the figure for minority businesses. He established this organization to help minority businesses and he will be missed. This (the council) was his baby.”

Like Nichols, Chuck Powell, the director of diversity affairs and community outreach for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, also thought of Adams as a mentor. “I owe so much to him—whatever I am and hope to be, I owe to John. He was a giant of a man and it was my fortune for him to take an interest in me,” Powell said. When Powell was a young professional, Adams showed him how to become a service man and introduced him to organizations, such as the rotary club and various other ones.

Although he had a love for Black business, he always tried to get people to see past the color and advocate equality. Kendrick and Powell both said that one of Adams’ greatest sayings was, “We are not Black business people. We are Black people in business.”

Adams remained executive director of the council until his retirement, but even after that he continued to maintain a presence. During his life, Adams was associated with many boards and organizations.

“I hope his legacy continues into establishing more minority businesses that will strengthen the minority community in western Pennsylvania,” said Nichols.

One thing that continues to be expressed about Adams is his love for people, especially Black people.

“There will never be another like him. He was incredible,” said Powell.

Arrangements for Adams are being handled by Samuel J. Jones Funeral Home Inc. The visitation is June 9 from 2-8 p.m. at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, 100 Bryn Mawr Rd., in the Hill District, and the funeral service will be held June 10 at 11 a.m., also at the church. For more information, call 412-621-9644.

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