Adams’s books and stories about the African American residents of lower Richland County brought him both regional and national attention as an author who was able to present the black dialect with great precision, and also as a white author who unhesitatingly portrayed the hardships of racial prejudice in the 1920s and 1930s.
Physician, author. Adams was born in Weston, Richland County, on January 5, 1876, the eldest son of James Ironsides Adams and Caroline Pinckney Leverett. He was educated in the public and private grade schools of Gadsden and Columbia, and later at Clemson College, Maryland Medical College in Baltimore, the Charleston Medical College (where he received his M.D.), the University of Pennsylvania, and Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. On June 10, 1910, Adams married Amanda M. Smith. They had two children. Adams served in the United States Army during the Spanish American War. He volunteered again for active duty during World War I, serving in France as a captain in the Eighty-First (“Wildcat”) Division. He returned to Columbia in 1918. After several years of medical practice, Adams retired to devote more of his time to farming on his Bluff Road plantation, to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1922, and to write sketches, two books, and a play about the black inhabitants of Richland County.
Adams’s books and stories about the African American residents of lower Richland County brought him both regional and national attention as an author who was able to present the black dialect with great precision, and also as a white author who unhesitatingly portrayed the hardships of racial prejudice in the 1920s and 1930s. His first volume, Congaree Sketches, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1927. Here he introduced the poor blacks of the Congaree swamp and their meticulously rendered dialect that would form the imaginative foundation for the many stories that followed. The first collection was immediately successful. After reading a copy of Congaree Sketches brought to him by a Scribner’s representative, the editor Maxwell Perkins wrote to Adams directly, and Adams’s next volume, Nigger to Nigger, appeared under the prestigious Scribner’s imprint in 1928. The chairperson of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Mary White Ovington, who had earlier remarked on the high quality of Adams’s insights into the mind of African Americans in Congaree Sketches, also admired Nigger to Nigger for its poignant descriptions of the tragic lives of its poor black characters.
With the 1929 publication of Potee’s Gal: A Drama of Negro Life Near the Big Congaree Swamps, Adams was thrust directly into the spotlight of public opinion when the Stage Society of Columbia adopted it for production with an entirely black cast. The great public outcry against this decision overwhelmed the quality of the play and the objections of Adams and his many friends. After a bitter exchange of letters with their detractors in the local newspapers, the Stage Society’s board of governors canceled the two productions that had been scheduled for February 5, 1929. Potee’s Gal was never produced on the stage.
Adams died at his home in Columbia on November 1, 1946. He was buried in the cemetery at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Congaree.
Adams, Edward Clarkson Leverett. Tales of the Congaree. Edited by Robert G.
O’Meally. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
–––. Vertical Biographical File and Papers. South Caroliniana Library,University of South Carolina, Columbia.