Victoria Jackson Gray Adams became one of the most profound civil rights activists in Mississippi during the 1960s as a key figure in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer and as the first woman from the state to run for the U.S. Senate.
In 1962, she became a full-time field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, teaching literacy so African-Americans could register to vote.
Even though she was working as a teacher and an independent cosmetics businesswoman, she decided to run for U.S. Senate in 1964 against Democratic incumbent Sen. John Stennis, who had served 16 years at the time.
Gray Adams and others founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge segregationist politicians. Although she lost to Stennis, the party she helped form and lead went on to challenge the right of the all-white Mississippi delegation to represent the state at the 1964 Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City, N.J.
It marked a pivotal turning point in the civil rights movement. In 1968, Mississippi seated an integrated delegation at the Democratic convention for the first time.
Her papers, housed at the University of Southern Mississippi, represent one of the largest collections of archived materials on Mississippi’s civil rights movement. Gray Adams is featured in numerous documentaries/films – including “Eyes On The Prize,” “Freedom On My Mind,” “Standing On My Sisters’ Shoulders” and others – focusing on our country’s modern civil rights movement/freedom movement.
Gray Adams was educated at Wilberforce University in Ohio, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and Jackson State University. She traveled the country as a lecturer and served as campus minister at Virginia State University.
She was born on Nov. 5, 1926, in Palmers Crossing, Miss., and died Aug. 12, 2006.