In 2011 Congressman Charles Rangel honored her. On the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, she was at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Thelma C. Davidson Adair has truly done it all.
“I came to New York 70 years ago during the war years, and we saw in a very dramatic way the need for early care and over the years it continued and expanded,” said Adair. “Harlem has changed, evolved, expanded and it is a much more positive place for persons of all ages.”
Adair has lived in Harlem since 1942, but she was born in Iron Station, N.C., Aug. 29, 1920, and grew up during the Jim Crow era. She met her husband, the Rev. Dr. Arthur Eugene Adair in North Carolina.
Adair earned a degree from Barber-Scotia College and Bennett College in North Carolina, and then a master’s degree and doctorate of education from Columbia University Teachers College. She is a Professor Emeritus at Queens College of the City University of New York.
She is an activist as well as an educator. From her earlier years to this day she has been an advocate for early child education.
Describing her passion and inspiration for becoming so involved in education, she stated,
“As an educator I believe that the early years are the most important to development of character and skills. Helping the child from the very beginning is important and it helps make them more inquisitive. We want them to be more aware of the world so that they are able to solve problems and issues that will make them vital and valued at home, the workplace, school and church. Concern for the child begins before birth.”
Adair has written many works on early childhood education, and some have even been used as official guides for early childhood educators. Many Head Start programs have been established in West Harlem because of her passion and help. In 1944 she created the Arthur Eugene and Thelma Adair Community Life Center Head Start, which served more than 250 children throughout Harlem.
Adair is also an ordained elder at the Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church of New York City in Harlem.
When asked what she wanted for her 96th birthday, she replied, “At 96 I have a lot of wishes. I want people to have the best possible early experience and education that they can. I think we could have used more art fields. More music schools and dance schools.”
Even at the age of 96 she is thinking of the happiness of others, as she has done for more than 70 years.