William Lloyd “Little Willie” Adams, who began his career as a number runner on the streets of Baltimore and eventually became the city’s first prominent African-American venture capitalist, bankrolling numerous black-owned businesses, died last week from pneumonia. He was 97.
“Little Willie was an institution in Baltimore. And as far as the black community was concerned, he brought black entrepreneurs into the formerly all-white business community,” former Mayor Thomas J. D’Alesandro III said. “He was also a political power in his own right and had a tremendous network.”
Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke described him as a “major force in the city and its politics and economic development,” adding, “For many years he was the most ‘reliable bank’ that African Americans could go to in order to start and continue to operate businesses. For years he was the lender. When I got into office, he was less of a power, but to the Harry B. Coles and the Mitchells [pioneering black officials], he was the indispensable power.”
In the segregated 1950s and 1960s, Adams owned Carr’s Beach, the area’s most popular black amusement park, located on the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis. He also owned Parks Sausage, which, in 1969, became one of the first black-owned companies to be publicly traded on Wall Street.
“I was too young and concerned with making a dollar,” Adams told the Baltimore Sun in a 1966 interview, reflecting on his number-running days. “I was always working for one object — to make myself some money and go into legitimate business.”
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