Joe Atkins | Oral History

Joe Atkins

Joe Atkins (OH 1057)

Joe Louis Atkins grew up in Jefferson and Dallas, Texas, and graduated from Dallas's Lincoln High School in 1954. An active member of the Youth Council of the Dallas branch of the NAACP, he earned an academic scholarship to Philander Smith College in Arkansas, but by the end of his freshman year he had decided that he wanted to attend school closer to home. With the support of Dallas civil rights leader Juanita Craft, he applied for admission to North Texas State College (the institution that became UNT in 1988), even though there were no African American undergraduates enrolled at the time. Denied entry because of his race, he engaged NAACP lawyers and sued. In 1956 a federal district court ruled in the case of Atkins v. Matthews that North Texas could not deny applicants solely on the basis of race. North Texas had to desegregate its student body.

While his case was winding its way through the courts Atkins decided to attend Texas Western (UTEP), so he did not take advantage of the ruling to attend North Texas as an undergraduate, but he did return to campus as a graduate student. Atkins earned a master's degree from the College of Education in 1966.

UNT News Service

Atkins discusses the importance of the Dallas NAACP branch and its Youth Council director, Juanita Craft
Atkins describes the decision to apply to NTSC and his initial rejection
North Texas reacts to a federal court's decision that it must desegregate
Atkins remembers an intimidating visit from the Texas Rangers
Atkins recalls his impressions of NTSC President J.C. Matthews