North Texas Daily

The UNT community needs to remember Joseph Louis Atkins

The UNT community needs to remember Joseph Louis Atkins

The UNT community needs to remember Joseph Louis Atkins
February 17
14:00 2022

In celebration of Black History Month, it is only right to highlight the historical Black leaders who have made an impact in our society. Many of us already know about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. However, many do not know about Joseph Louis Atkins.

Atkins was born in Jefferson, Texas, on March 6, 1936. Later, him and his family moved to Dallas where he attended Lincoln High school. In 1954, he graduated from high school and wanted to further his education, moving to Arkansas where he took one semester at Philander Smith College. He moved back to Dallas because he missed his family and applied to North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas).

Due to segregation in the South and UNT’s policy at the time, Atkins was denied admission due to his race. In response to being denied admission because of being Black, Atkins filed a lawsuit against the university.

Atkins was also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which helped him with the lawsuit. This was also the same year of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, where the court ruled segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.

On Dec. 2, 1955, Judge Joe Sheehy ruled in favor of Atkins. The ruling was based on the 14th amendment which prohibits denying any person equal rights. This is significant to the university because it is mandatory for Texas education officials to admit Black students at any institution. The judge also issued an injunction against the institution denying students off based on their race, this lawsuit brought an end to segregation at North Texas State and other schools in Texas.

Although Atkins was victorious against the university, he did not receive his bachelor’s degree at the institution. Due to litigation, Atkins did not want to wait until the case was over to be granted admission, according to a 1995 interview. Atkins instead went to Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1956 in journalism and English. Later, he went to North Texas State for his master’s degree in education in 1966.

The UNT community needs to know about the story of Atkins because he helped change the trajectory of the university and all public schools across the state of Texas. This is significant to the university and society because the ruling of the case also helped desegregate housing, accommodations to the public and other schools that provide higher education.

Atkins’ story opened the doors for Black students, faculty and staff at the university. Shortly after African Americans were able to be admitted at the university, people of other races were able to attend the institution as well. In a way, this case was not only helpful for African Americans but people of other races as well because it was a civil matter. Atkins helped bring the diversity and inclusion we see at UNT today.

Without Atkins, there would be no Black Student Union, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Black accountants or other Black campus organizations.

The university should highlight Atkins’ story, especially during Black History Month. There should at least be a building named after him since he contributed to desegregation and creating diversity at the college. Atkins and his legacy need to be commemorated to make his legacy more widely known.

It can do this by interviewing friends and family who remember his legacy, or by planting a tree as a symbol of how the university has grown in diversity since Atkins, or host special events dedicated to Atkins’s legacy. He was the stepping stone for the current African Americans who attend the university today. Atkins being brave at a time when our country was segregated helped shaped what the UNT community looks like today.

We have come a long way in making change for African Americans in this country. Those who have paved the way for African Americans must be highlighted and their stories must be told.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Chelsie Burroughs

Chelsie Burroughs

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