PI­O­NEER­ING EDUCATOR CHARLES AKINS DIES

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa B. Taboada mtaboada@states­man.com

Long­time educator Charles Akins — a pi­o­neer in the Austin school dis­trict’s in­te­gra­tion ef­forts and for whom Akins High School in South Austin is named — died early Wed­nes­day.

Akins, 84, was the first black teacher in an in­te­grated high school in the Austin dis­trict, and was the dis­trict’s first black prin­ci­pal. He worked in the dis­trict for 41 years, then vol­un­teered for more than a decade af­ter that.

In 1964, when the dis­trict be­gan to in­te­grate its fac­ulty, Akins be­came the first black teacher at John­ston High School, now East­side Me­mo­rial. He was the first dean of boys at John­ston, then an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Old Anderson and Lanier high schools. He later be­came an as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent.

Trustee Paul Sal­daña, who rep­re­sents the part of the dis­trict that in­cludes Akins High School, said Akins was “a true le­gend and trail­blazer.”

“Dr. Akins was one of my lo­cal he­roes who ex­em­pli­fied tremen­dous grace, in­tegrity and lead­er­ship,” Sal­daña said. “Our stu­dents, fam­i­lies, and teach­ers are eter­nally grate­ful to Dr. Akins for his life­long work, ad­vo­cacy and com­mit­ment to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and our AISD schools. Dr. Akins in­spired our Akins’ stu­dents every day, re­mind­ing them the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

A de­scen­dant of share­crop­pers, Akins grew up in seg­re­gated East Austin and at­tended

Austin schools, in­clud­ing Keal­ing Ju­nior High and Old L.C. Anderson High School, where he grad­u­ated in 1950.

When he be­came the first prin­ci­pal of the new L.C. Anderson High School, he also be­came the dis­trict’s first black prin­ci­pal at the cam­pus, the fo­cal point of court-man­dated in­te­gra­tion in West Austin. He would stand in front of the school every morn­ing to meet the buses, which car­ried both black stu­dents from East Austin and the white stu­dents who lived closer to the cam­pus in all-white neigh­bor­hoods. He told the Amer­i­can-States­man that prac­ti­cally every day, there was a fight when stu­dents would get off the bus. He was de­ter­mined to end it. He said he wanted to stand tall for the idea of in­te­gra­tion and push back against racism on both sides.

“I had some bleak days, of course, for a time,” Akins re­called in a States­man in­ter- view in 2013. “I wanted to make it work. I didn’t want to dis­ap­point the school board. I didn’t want to dis­ap­point the su­per­in­ten­dent. And I be­lieve in in­clu­sion. I re­ally do. I think that’s what be­ing Amer­i­can is all about.”

Cur­rent Akins Prin­ci­pal Brandi Ho­sack said Akins at­tended every grad­u­a­tion and would visit the school reg­u­larly, still ded­i­cated to the stu­dents and staff. Hold­ing back tears, she said she drew as much as she could from the time she spent with him, “be­cause when you get be­fore a le­gend, you take those op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn.”

“I’m for­ever grate­ful for the work that he did,” Ho­sack said. “I want to make sure our stu­dents un­der­stand the ground­work that he laid.”

Akins hired for­mer Austin teacher David Brooks in 1978. Brooks was a year out of col­lege, and de­spite be­ing a to­tal stranger, he said Akins was gra­cious enough to meet with him for a job in­ter­view.

“Whether you were a stu- dent, a par­ent or teacher, his door was al­ways open,” Brooks said. “Any­one who walked through that door was al­ways wel­come.”

Brooks said that Akins treated peo­ple with cour- tesy and re­spect. He held his ground when con­fronted, he said, but did so po­litely and with re­spect.

“He was a re­mark­able, ef­fec­tive civil rights ac­tivist,” Brooks said. “He did more, I think, for civil rights as it re­lates to stu­dents in Austin than per­haps any­one. By his man­ner and his mod­el­ing, it was very clear that he saw no dis­tinc­tion be­tween black, white, brown or what­ever.”

Akins had a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in his­tory from Hus­ton-Til­lot­son Col­lege, a mas­ter’s de­gree from Prairie View A&M Univer­sity, and re­ceived his ad­min­is­tra­tive cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from South­west Texas State Univer­sity, now Texas State.

Akins stuck to his “con­vic­tions and what was right for all kids,” be­liev­ing that edu- cation was the path to ex­cel­lence, Austin school Su­per- in­ten­dent Paul Cruz said.

“He was truly a vi­sion­ary leader,” Cruz said. “He was an in­di­vid­ual who was so com­mit­ted to ed­u­ca­tion and to ex­cel­lence for all our stu­dents.”

RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2013

Charles Akins with buses lined up for pick­ups at L.C. Anderson High School in 2013. Akins was the first black prin­ci­pal at Anderson and also was an as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent.

JAY JANNER / AMERICANSTATESMAN

Akins High School Prin­ci­pal Brandi Ho­sack (sec­ond from right) hugs a stu­dent af­ter Akins’ death was an­nounced.

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