Simon G. Atkins 1863-1934 (J-101)

Founded Slater Academy, now Winston-Salem State Univ.; president, 1892-1904, 1913-34. Religious and community leader. Lived one block west.

Location: US 311 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive) at Cromartie Street in Winston-Salem
County: Forsyth
Original Date Cast: 1995

Simon Green Atkins, president of what is now Winston-Salem State University for almost forty years, was also the person most responsible for its establishment. Born a slave in the Chatham County town of Haywood in 1863, Atkins graduated from St. Augustine’s College in 1884. He returned home to teach for a few months but soon was hired by Joseph C. Price to lead the grammar school department at Livingstone College. There he remained for six years, during which time he conducted institutes for black teachers similar to those conducted by Charles D. McIver and Edwin Alderman for whites.

In 1890 Atkins left Livingstone, where he taught for six years, to become principal of a public school in Winston. In 1892 he started Slater Academy, named for a philanthropist. That school in 1895 received $1000 in matching state support and in 1905 became state-owned. Atkins left in 1904 to become to be secretary of education of the A.M.E. Zion Church but returned to the presidency of the school in 1913. In 1919 college courses were first offered and in 1925 the name was changed to Winston-Salem Teachers’ College. Atkins remained the school’s president until 1934, when illness forced his retirement; his son Francis was his successor. The school gained university status in 1969.

In addition to gaining funds and recognition for his institution, Atkins was active in state and national educational associations. In 1926 he led a list of those named by the Department of Public Instruction as leading black educators of the last twenty-five years. As a lay leader in the A.M.E. Zion Church, Atkins attended ecumenical conferences in London and Toronto. In Winston-Salem he helped develop Columbian Heights, the community around the present university, and with others founded a hospital for blacks. Atkins regretted that universal suffrage had been granted to blacks, preferring to believe in the “supremacy of intelligence and character and government by the most capable.”

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 60—sketch by Samuel M. Gainor
N. C. Newbold, Five North Carolina Negro Educators (1939)
A. B. Caldwell, History of the American Negro: North Carolina Edition (1921)
John H. Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (1987)
Winston-Salem State University website:

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