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Researched and written by Kobe M. Brown and Cheri Todd Molter

On June 11, 1862, Simon Green Atkins was born to Allen and Eliza Atkins and grew up on a farm in Chatham County. Even from a young age, Mr. Atkins took his education seriously and was known to be an astute student who desired nothing more than a future career in teaching. As a young man, Mr. Atkins attended St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh and graduated in 1884, receiving a degree in education. Afterwards, from 1884 to 1890, he taught at Livingstone College in Salisbury as the head of the grammar school department. During his final two years at that institution, Mr. Atkins also served as the treasurer of the college, and he spent his summers managing institutes for Black teachers in various counties in North Carolina. (Samuel Gainor, “Simon Green Atkins,” NCpedia.org)

In September of 1889, Simon married Oleona Pegram in Craven County, North Carolina. Mrs. Oleona Atkins was born in July of 1867 and was a native of Charlotte who later relocated to New Bern, North Carolina. She was known for her love of learning and her desire to share that with others. She attended Scotia Women’s College in Concord, North Carolina, and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. By the time she married in 1889, she was already working as a teacher. (Ashlea Jones, “The Women Behind the Name,” Winston Salem State University)

In 1890, Mr. Atkins was hired as the principal of the Depot Street Public School, located in Winston Salem. During Atkins’ tenure there, the institution became the largest public school for African Americans in North Carolina (Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission, “Historic Marker Program,” cityofws.org). Soon after getting settled in as principal, Atkins also worked to further develop the neighborhood of Columbian Heights, which had historically been a neglected part of the city. He wanted to improve the standard of living of the African American community by providing better housing conditions and promoting economic independence, homeownership, and collaboration between the Black and white communities (Ashlea Jones, “The Women Behind the Name,” Winston Salem State University). As a result of his efforts, Columbian Heights became a home for many Black professionals—doctors, teachers, ministers, craftsmen, and lawyers—in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The Atkins family relocated to this newly developed area in 1892, and then Mr. Atkins founded a new school there. (Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission, “Historic Marker Program,” cityofws.org)

In 1895, Mr. Atkins decided to resign from his position at the Depot Street Public School to work full-time at the school he had founded in Columbian Heights. That institution later became known as the Slater Industrial Academy, which eventually became Winston Salem State University (Samuel Gainor, “Simon Green Atkins,” NCpedia.org). Mr. Atkins served as president of the institution for over 30 years, and it experienced massive growth and expansion under his leadership. Mrs. Atkins also worked there for many years: In addition to teaching English, she served as a chief administrative assistant.

Meanwhile, a hospital was needed in Winston-Salem to serve the African American community, providing them with access to proper medical care. At the time, there was only one hospital in Winston-Salem, and its staff only administered care to white people. In 1899, Mr. Atkins started raising funds for the project, and R. J. Reynolds, a tobacco businessman, agreed to match the donations received by the first of January 1901. Mr. Atkins hoped to raise $2,500 locally and gather another $2500 in the North. When he fell short of his goal to gather $5,000, Reynolds granted Mr. Atkins an extension, matching funds received until 1902. Also, Reynolds donated $1,665 in cash and 11 acres of land near the Slater School. The hospital and a space to train nurses opened on May 14, 1902. However, Slater Hospital was plagued by financial troubles and lacked a stable water supply, so the hospital had to shut down for almost a year beginning in June of 1904. The hospital reopened after a pipeline was laid in 1905. Slater Hospital closed in 1912; the building was later used as a dormitory for students and a site for home economics courses. (Samuel Gainor, “Simon Green Atkins,” NCpedia.org)

During their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Atkins had eight children: Russell, Harvey, Leland, Clarence, Francis, Jasper, Miriam, and Eliza. Some of their children followed in their footsteps, becoming educators as adults. Russell became an agriculture teacher and managed a farm. Miriam was the acting dean of women from 1923 to 1924 before deciding to pursue a degree in social work. Francis earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Lincoln University, then joined the faculty at Slater and held several different positions during his career. Jasper graduated from Yale University’s Law School and pursued a career in academia. (“Simon Green Atkins and His Family,” digitalforsyth.org)

Mr. Atkins was a devout Christian who usually had his personal Bible with him. Mr. Atkins served as a Secretary of Education for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and even had the distinction of serving as a representative of the church at three international ecumenical conferences. The first was in London in 1901; the second in Toronto in 1911; and the final time was London in 1921. (“Simon Green Atkins and His Family,” digitalforsyth.com).

Mr. and Mrs. Atkins played significant roles in the continued development of Slater Industrial Academy. The couple was highly respected, and they supported the educational pursuits of their own children and their students. Mr. Atkins stated that “every Negro boy and girl is a partner of the State in its march forward toward progress, and in the building of interracial goodwill and understanding” (“Simon Green Atkins and His Family,” digitalforsyth.org).

Mr. Atkins’ tenure as president of the Slater Industrial Academy ended during the spring semester of 1934 when he retired due to poor health. Mr. Simon Atkins passed away on June 28, 1934. After his death, his son, Francis L. Atkins, was elected to become his successor by the board of trustees. Two years later, in 1936, Mrs. Oleona Pegram Atkins died. Both Mr. and Mrs. Atkins were known for their determination to prepare the African American youth of North Carolina to be economically independent and for improving the educational opportunities for African Americans.




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