Simon Green Atkins and His Family
“Education is primarily an effort to realize in man his possibilities as a thinking and feeling being.”
Simon Green Atkins
Simon Green Atkins (1863-1934) devoted his life to improving African-American education in North Carolina. He also worked tirelessly to elevate the economic status and to improve the housing and health of his community. Atkins was a man of high principles who emphasized how important it is for youth to develop strong personal character and a willingness to work hard to promote the overall good of society. Though reserved and soft-spoken, Atkins was a convincing, versatile leader, who with his like-minded wife Oleona Pegram Atkins and their gifted children, made important contributions to North Carolina and to the Winston-Salem community.
As a child, Simon was eager to learn and rose to the head of his class at the village school. He attended St. Augustine’s Normal Collegiate Institute in Raleigh and returned home to teach. Simon’s dedication to education and his fine teaching skills were soon recognized and he was invited to head the grammar school department at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC (1884-1890). He also served as the school’s treasurer. Mr. Atkins’ good reputation spread as he conducted summer institutes for African-American teachers in various North Carolina counties.
In1889, Simon married Oleona Pegram of New Bern, NC. She was to become his life-long assistant, advisor, and the mother of their nine children.
As principal at Depot Street Public School in Winston-Salem, then the largest grammar school for African-Americans in NC, Simon Atkins tackled the problem of poor living conditions for Blacks. He set out to establish a community that would be a “center of mutual understanding, respect, and regard of one race for the other.” The Columbian Heights area was the designated location for the neighborhood, and, in 1892, Mr. and Mrs. Atkins were among the community’s first settlers.
The newly developed neighborhood offered suitable surroundings for a new, progressive school. There, in 1892, Simon founded Slater Industrial Academy, now Winston-Salem State University.
Mr. Atkins served as President of Slater Industrial Academy for over 30 years, from 1892-1904 and from1913-1934. The high level of community respect Simon Atkins held is evident in an excerpt from the December 10, 1916 Winston-Salem Journal: “â€¦It will be good news to the people of Winston-Salem both white and colored, that Prof. S.G. Atkinsâ€¦has decided to continue his work in this city….” instead of accepting a position offered elsewhere.
Howard University in Washington, D.C. also recognized Simon Atkins’ contributions to society. In 1926, the University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree (LLD). The inscription on his diploma reads: “Simon G. Atkins, teacher of youth, builder and sustainer of educational institutions, leader of cooperative activity in the teaching profession, responsible and trusted citizen, nucleus and maker of interracial good will.”
Simon Atkins was a devout Christian who carried his Bible with him to work. An active layman in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Mr. Atkins served as the Church’s Secretary of Education for twenty years and was its representative at three international Ecumenical Conferences. Between 1904 and 1913, the Slater Board of Trustees granted him leave. He traveled widely in the US, Canada, and Europe, raising money for his Church.
Mr. Atkins passed important attitudes on to his children and students alike believing that “â€¦ every Negro boy and girl is a partner of the State in its forward march toward progress, and in the building of interracial goodwill and understandingâ€¦”
Mrs. Oleona Pegram Atkins has also been recognized for her unselfish and loyal devotion to Winston-Salem Teachers College. Having been trained as a teacher before she married, she taught for many years at the school her husband founded. She also served as a chief administrative assistant, and her advice was important in shaping the institution’s policies. All the while, she was an inspiring mother to her children, four of whom also applied their skills in service to Slater, and later to Winston-Salem Teachers College.
Her first son, Russell, became the agriculture teacher and farm manager while her daughter Mariam, served as acting dean of women (1923-24) before pursuing a degree in social work.
Francis Loguen Atkins (b.1896) earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with highest honors (1920) at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. After his graduation, he joined the faculty at Slater and served as assistant to the president, registrar, and dean. With grant support from the Board of Trustees, Francis earned a masters degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. Personality traits and attitudes that Francis shared with his father made him the ideal candidate to succeed Dr. Atkins as president of the school in 1934.
In 1936, Francis’ younger brother Jasper Alston Atkins, a graduate of Yale University Law School, was appointed executive secretary of Winston-Salem Teachers Collegeâ€”furthering the family vision to improve educational opportunity for all people.
Should the Negro be Given an Education Different from that Given to the Whites?” in: Twentieth Century Negro Literature or A Cyclopedia of thought of the vital Topics relating to the American Negro.” Culp, D. W. ed., Miami, Florida: Mnemosyne Publishing Co., Inc, 1969. pp. 80-83.
Huff, James and Ernestine, Eds. Paths toward freedom : a biographical history of Blacks and Indians in North Carolina / by Blacks and Indians ; Raleigh : Center for Urban Affairs, North Carolina State University at Raleigh, 1976.
Moss, Mark. “He Worked Hard to Improve Black Education” in: Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, NC. April 4, 1977.
Murphy, E. Louise. The History of Winston-Salem State University 1892-1995, Virginia Beach: Donning Company, 1992.
Powell, William S. Ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979. Vol. 1, p. 60.
Winston-Salem State University Archives. S. G. Atkins Biographical Sketches.