Dr. Thelma C. Davidson-Adair, who is 100 years old, voted on Sunday, November 1, 2020, at her polling site Jackie Robinson Complex.
Dr. Thelma C. Davidson Adair 101 years old this year. She is a Presbyterian educator, church leader, advocate for human rights, peace and justice issues, writer, guest speaker, educator, activist, and an Elder at Mt. Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church in Harlem, NY.
She was born in Iron Station, NC in 1920, and graduated with separate Bachelor’s Degrees from Barber–Scotia College in Concord, NC, and Bennett College, in Greensboro, NC, before marrying Rev. Dr. Arthur Adair, who died in 1979. In 1942, Rev. Dr. Adair was called as the head pastor of Mt. Morris United Presbyterian Church, and the couple moved to Harlem. There, Thelma earned her Masters and her Doctorate at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University.
When WWII came, she, like many women, joined the war effort, working at a factory in NYC where she inspected radar tubes. About this period of her life, she later wrote, “This was a period of perhaps the greatest number of lynchings. Everything was separate. Total restrictions. And at every moment you could be humiliated just because of color.
Despite the denial, despite the tragedy, despite the suffering, black folks, colored folks, Negro, Afro-Americans, claim America. This was your country, and so the loyalty, and this is the mystery of it all, was so strong that you never, even as we worked in war plants, even as we brought our crippled back, even as we buried our dead and got flags – we were not fighting for someone else. We too were America, and we only wanted the chance and the opportunity that we could have to sit at the table.”
After the war, she went back into the classroom, and became an organizer for Head Start programs in Harlem. She and Arthur founded Project Uplift, which is now called the Arthur E. and Thelma Adair Community Center, which runs Head Start programs throughout Harlem. She has published numerous pieces on Early Childhood Education, and her writings on the subject are still used to teach Early Childhood Educators.
In 1976, she became the first African American female to moderate the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, traveling to 115 different countries during her term. During her term as Moderator, she also founded Presbyterian Senior Services. From 1980 to 1984, she served as the President of Church Women United.
She is the recipient of The Thelma C. Adair Award on Presbyterian Senior Services; Barber-Scotia Alumni Award for Meritorious Service in the Field of Education; Columbia University, Teacher’s College Distinguished Alumni Award; United Negro College Fund Distinguished Award for Outstanding Service and Commitment of Higher Education; 1986 Women of Faith Award from the Presbyterian Church; 1991 National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen Women of Faith Awards; 2008 Medal of Distinction Barnard College; and the 2011 Maggie Kuhn Presbyterian Church Award.
She still lives in Harlem.