PIONEERING EDUCATOR CHARLES AKINS DIES
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.”
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.
Akins High School Principal Brandi Hosack (second from right) hugs a student after Akins’ death was announced.