Born Victoria Almeter Jackson on November 5, 1926 in a black community called Palmer's Crossing, which is now a part of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Adams was the daughter of Mack and Annie Mae Jackson. Her mother died when she was three years old, and she was then raised by her grandparents. Unusually for the time and place, her grandparents were not tenants farmers, owning and farming their own land. Thus, Adams grew up with a strong sense of independence.
In 1945, she graduated from Depriest Consolidated School. She then attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, but had to quit after one year due to lack of funds for tuition. Her first marriage was with Tony West Gray, a soldier who was subsequently stationed Germany, taking his family with him. They returned to the United States and lived in Maryland, during which time Adams worked as a cosmetics sales representative. They later returned to Mississippi
Adams' involvement in the Civil Rights Movement began in the early 1960s when she convinced her pastor to open up their church to workers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In the 1960 elections, Adams trained individuals from her hometown in voter registration. Many African Americans at the time were illiterate, which prevented them from registering, so she taught began teaching reading, writing, and civics, using the Constitution as her primary text.
Adams' work in the Movement put a great strain on her marriage to Gray, and they couple divorced. She would later marry Rueben Adams, and while much of he early work was under he former married name, she later insisted that she be known as Victoria Gray Adams in all references to her in articles and histories of the Movement.
In 1962, she became field secretary for the SNCC, and led a boycott against Hattiesburg businesses. In 1964, Adams, who continued to work as cosmetics salesperson, decided to run against Senator John Stennis, the Mississippi Democrat who at the time had been in the Senate for 16 years. She announced that she and others from the tiny Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, of which she was a founding member, along with Fannie Lou Hamer and Annie Devine, would challenge the power of white segregationist politicians like Stennis. The time had come, she said, to pay attention "to the Negro in Mississippi, who had not even had the leavings from the American political table."
Adams called the MFDP the true Democratic Party of Mississippi and boasted its accomplishment of tearing down the "curtain of fear in Mississippi for African Americans demanding their rights." During her campaign for Senate, which she knew was a futile effort given that Mississippi politics was tightly controlled by the Democratic Party Machine, she stated that "Unemployment, automation, inadequate housing, health care, education, and rural development are the real issues in Mississippi, not 'states rights' or 'federal encroachment.'"
During the Freedom Summer of 1964, Adams helped open the Freedom Schools that pushed for civil rights in Mississippi. Along with Hamer and Devin and 62 other members of the MFDP, she went to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Mississippi Democratic Party had withdrawn support for President Lyndon Johnson because of Johnson's work to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and sent an all-white delegation to the convention. The three women fought to be seated among the delegation, but were unsuccessful because the rules of the Convention required it to seat the delegates designated by the recognized state party. One of the “Mississippi regulars,” as the white delegates were known, declared they could seat “a dozen dead dodos” and no one could do anything about it.
Eventually, a compromise was devised: If the Freedom Democrats would accept two delegate-at-large seats and withdraw the rest of their delegation, then the Democratic leadership would pledge to ban segregation from all future conventions. For national civil rights leaders, the deal seemed pretty sweet. But not for the Mississippians, who wanted their whole delegation seated. In the hotel rooms, the debate over whether to take the deal raged (and now, in history classrooms, still rages). When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weighed in, he phrased it perfectly: “So, being a Negro leader, I want you to take this, but if I were a Mississippi Negro, I would vote against it.”
In the end, the Freedom delegates refused the deal. “We didn’t come all this way for no two seats,” said Hamer, “’cause all of us is tired.” Gray’s explanation was more restrained. She argued that “people back home were counting on them to bring back gains deep enough and fair enough to hold against conditions in Mississippi.”
The delegation fight played out on national television and heightened public awareness of the divide between the mainstream Democratic Party and the "Dixiecrats" of the South. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who is now a Georgia congressman, said later, “As far as I’m concerned, this was the turning point of the civil rights movement.”
Adams noted that people made a discovery while in Atlantic City. People realized there was a way out of the lives they had been living in for so long. She explained that the way out of that life would be through "the execution of the vote" and getting representation. In an interview with the Virginia Organizing Project, she says, "We were going in the face of the Mississippi Democratic Party, which included some of the most powerful members of the U.S. Congress, to demand that we be recognized to have representation at the Democratic National Convention."
Adams said she learned in 1964 that there were two kinds of people in the grass-roots politics of the civil rights movement, "those who are in the movement and those who have the movement in them." "The movement is in me", she said, "and I know it always will be."
Adams also founded the Council of Federated Organization (COFO). COFO was a coalition of all the freedom organizations working during the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. COFO was the main organization responsible for leading all the other umbrella organizations, which included the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
As was true throughout the South, the civil rights movement in Mississippi was inspired by the grand oratory of men like King and Andrew Young. On the ground, though, away from the crowds, it was often women’s work. Stanley Zibulsky, a Northern white teacher who camped out on Gray’s floor during the summer of 1964, explained that women were compelled to put their bodies on the line. “Men couldn’t even answer the door,” he recalled recently. “It was considered too dangerous. There would be a knock, and Vicky [Adams] was the one who opened the door.”
Adams has received many awards for her courageous work. Two of the most noticeable include, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award and the Fannie Lou Hammer Humanitarian Award. Adams died at her son Cecil's home in Baltimore on August 12, 2006, of cancer, aged 79. Her papers are at the McCain Library and Archives at the University of Southern Mississippi.