Examining Frank Adair Jr. as an African American CPA Pioneer: A Historical Note
Hollingsworth, Keith, Accounting Historians Journal
Abstract: In 1932, Frank Adair Jr. achieved his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) status as the sixth African American CPA in the US and only the second in the Deep South. Although his active professional career was brief (5 years), it typifies not only the difficulty experienced by an African American achieving this designation in the Jim Crow South, but also the factors that were necessary for such an achievement to occur in that time period. First, Adair Jr. practiced in a dynamic and vibrant segregated business community. Second, he was educated at a black college. An African American who wanted to stay in the Deep South would have had no other option. Third, he benefitted from a strong professional mentoring relationship that enabled him to forge his career path. Inadvertently, Adair Jr. was omitted from the 1990 NABA report of the first one hundred African American CPAs. This historical note seeks to correct that omission.
In 1932, Frank Adair Jr. became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Georgia, making him the second African American CPA in Georgia and the Deep South, as well as the sixth African American CPA nationwide to earn such a distinction. This achievement was so significant that it was publicized in the Atlanta Daily World, the only African American daily newspaper at that time, as well as the Baltimore Afro-American, one of the five largest African American newspapers in the United States. Although his career was a mere five years, Frank Adair Jr.'s experience typifies the difficulty an African American experienced while seeking to achieve this professional designation in the Jim Crow South. Of keen interest are the factors that enabled him to excel despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
First, he trained and practiced in Atlanta, one of the most successful segregated African American business communities in the country. Without a client base of sufficient size, he would not have had the opportunity to practice his craft. The first minority CPAs practiced in areas where a critical mass of African American businesses provided a support base. Second, he was educated at a black college. While African Americans were admitted to northern colleges and universities, for the majority of African Americans choosing to remain in the South, the only business education available that would prepare one for the CPA exam was from black colleges. The African Americans who were trained at northern colleges tended to stay in the North. Of the first five African American CPAs, all of them received their accounting education at northern schools but only one, J. B. Blayton, practiced in the Deep South. [Hammond, 2002, 16-17, 21, 23-27, 30-31] Adair would be the first African American CPA educated at a black college and he was the first to receive his accounting education in the Deep South. Third, Mr. Adair had a strong mentor in J. B. Blayton, the first African American CPA in the state of Georgia and the fourth African American nationwide to earn this professional distinction. Professor Blayton would be his teacher at Morehouse College, his employer at a CPA firm, and eventually his partner in the same firm.
Unfortunately, Frank Adair Jr. was inadvertently omitted from the 1990 National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) report listing the first 100 African American CPAs. In 2002, Dr. Theresa Hammond published her seminal work on the history and struggles of the pioneer African American CPAs in the United States: A White Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921 using the NABA list as a foundation. Research on Professor Blayton, prominently featured in Dr. Hammond's book, uncovered newspaper articles from the 1930's that referenced the accounting firm Blayton, Adair and Company. Understanding that Mr. Blayton could not have had a white partner in a segregated society, further research led to verification of this African American pioneer and the difficulties he faced achieving this professional certification in a time of segregation and discrimination. …