Simon Green Atkins, educator and founder of Winston-Salem State University and the North Carolina Negro Teachers’ Association.
Atkins was born to two former slaves. He was born into slavery on a farm in North Carolina rented by his former master, Capt. E. Bryan.
In 1880, after many years of public education, Atkins enrolled in St. Augustine’s college in Raleigh, NC. While in college, he was introduced to Anna Julia Cooper, an accomplished student at St. Augustine’s college, who mentored Atkins and inspired him to continue pursuing education. With Cooper’s help, at the young age of 17, Atkins began his teaching career at a rural public school in North Carolina.
Atkins received his early schooling in Haywood. He was an astute student and progressed to teaching in the town school before he enrolled in St. Augustine’s Normal Collegiate Institute, now St. Augustine’s College, in 1880. After graduating from college, he took a teaching position in Chatham County. He later expanded his teaching career to Livingstone College in Salisbury in the fall of 1884 by Dr. J. C. Price. There Atkins served as head of the grammar school department for six years and also, during the last two years, acted as the treasurer of the college. While associated with Livingstone College, Atkins spent his summers conducting institutes for black teachers in various North Carolina counties.
In 1890 the city of Winston offered Atkins the position of principal of the public school for blacks, and he accepted. Soon after arriving in Winston, he initiated a project to develop Columbian Heights, a neglected section of town, in order to provide blacks with better housing conditions and ownership of their homes. He himself moved to this development in 1892 and started a school there the same year. In 1895, he resigned from his position with the public school to work full time with his school, which by then was called the Slater Normal and Industrial School.
During the following years, the curriculum of the school, under the guidance of the state board of education, was upgraded from high school level to include a two-year post-high school program. In 1925, the North Carolina General Assembly rechartered the school as the Winston-Salem Teachers’ College, extending its curriculum to four years of college work and limiting its function to the training of teachers, supervisors, and principals for the black elementary schools of the state. Atkins continued as president of the college until retiring at the end of the spring term in 1934, because of poor health. After his death, his son, Francis L. Atkins, was elected his successor by the board of trustees.
Atkins was one of the founders of the North Carolina Negro Teachers’ Association, organized in 1881. He served this organization for several terms as secretary and as president (ending in 1927).