Dr. Simon G. Atkins
Tenure: 1892-1904; 1913-1934
Simon Green Atkins, the founder and first president of Slater Industrial Academy (now Winston-Salem State University) was born June 11, 1863, in the village of Haywood in Chatham County, North Carolina, to Allen and Eliza Atkins. Atkins attended the town school and taught there before enrolling at St. Augustine's Normal Collegiate Institute in 1880. Following graduation, he taught briefly in Chatham County, N.C., before accepting an invitation from Livingston College President Joseph Charles Price to join the faculty there. While at Livingstone College, Atkins served as grammar school department head. During the last two years of his six-year tenure at Livingstone, he also served as treasurer of the college. In 1881, Atkins helped found the North Carolina Negro Teachers Association. He served the organization as president or secretary until 1927.
In 1889, Atkins married Oleona Pegram (1867-1936) of New Bern, North Carolina. Pegram was as a teacher at Scotia Women's College (now Barber Scotia College) and Fisk University. A year later the town of Winston offered Atkins a job as principal at the Depot Street School, the largest public school for Blacks in N.C. Shortly after beginning his duties, Atkins approached the Winston Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce to ask for assistance in starting a college for African-Americans. Upon hearing that the state intended to fund a colored agricultural college, Atkins began soliciting donations to locate the college in Winston. Armed with 50 acres of land, $2,000.00 donated from the local Black community, and an additional $500.00 from R.J. Reynolds, Atkins, with the Chamber's support, went to Raleigh to lobby Winston's case. However, as the citizens of Greensboro, North Carolina, offered 14 acres of land and $11,000.00, Greensboro was selected as the site of the school, now North Carolina A&T State University.
Atkins was more successful in his dream to build a community that could serve as a model for Black home ownership. In 1892, Atkins and his family became the first family to move into the new community, Columbian Heights, located on property formerly owned by the Inside Land and Improvement Company. Undaunted by his failure in Raleigh, Atkins persisted in his quest to build a school for Blacks in Columbian Heights. With the help of businessmen Henry E. Fries and William A. Blair, Atkins approached and received financial support from wealthy New England textile manufacturer and philanthropist John F. Slater. Thus, Slater Industrial Academy was founded in 1892 and began the next year as a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher and twenty-five students.
In 1897, Simon Green Atkins began service as the corresponding secretary of the American Negro Academy, the first scholarly organization for African-Americans. Atkins held this position until 1915, when the burdens of fundraising travel and administering Slater hindered his ability to produce the critical scholarly works called for by the organization. He was also a member of the AME Zion Church for more than fifty years; during twenty of those years, he served as the church's secretary. In 1904, Atkins officially resigned his position at Slater to further pursue his ecumenical work with the church. He remained the school's nominal head until 1913, when he officially resumed the presidency of Slater Industrial Academy and State Normal School. Atkins continued in this role until retiring at the end of the spring term in 1934, due to poor health. Following Atkins' death in 1934, his son Francis L. Atkins took over the presidency.