In Memoriam

Thomas I. Atkins (1939-2008)

Thomas I. Atkins, an educational pioneer and a central figure in the battle to desegregate the city of Boston’s public schools, has died at the age of 69 at a nursing home in Brooklyn, New York. For nearly two decades Atkins had suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Atkins was a native of Elkhart, Indiana. At Indiana University he was the first African American to be elected a class president and he was the first African American to be elected student body president of a Big-Ten university. He went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

As leader of the Boston-area NAACP during the turbulent early 1970s when school busing was a major issue, Atkins placed chicken wire over the windows of his home in case white opponents of busing tried to throw a Molotov cocktail into his home. He also had spigots installed throughout the inside of his home so he could connect a hose in order to fight a fire.

Atkins served on the Boston City Council and was secretary of communities and development for the Massachusetts state government. In 1980 he was named general counsel for the national organization of the NAACP.