Alumni celebrate the legacy of Atkins High School

Four alumni were honored during the Atkins High School Legacy Awards last weekend.

Alumni celebrate the legacy of Atkins High School
June 27
00:30 2019

For their success in their various fields of expertise, contributions to society, and love and passion for their alma mater, four alumni were honored during the Atkins High School Legacy Awards last weekend.

The event, sponsored by the Classes of 1970 and 1971, was started last year to celebrate the legacy and heritage of one of the city’s most important high schools by honoring students who walked through the halls of the school on Cameron Avenue. The original Atkins opened in 1931 and was the first school in Winston-Salem built to serve African Americans.

In a joint statement on the event, Reginald Day, president of the Class of 1971, and Carolyn McWillis, president of the Class of 1970, said, “The members of the Atkins High School Class of 1970 and 1971 proudly celebrate our legacy and are dedicated to making a difference in the community, as we render service instilled upon us by our parents and former teachers.

“Tonight we are celebrating the commitment to excellence and service of four distinguished Atkins alumni.”

Following dinner, the first distinguished alumnus to be recognized was 1957 graduate and former Durham Mayor William Bell. After graduating from Atkins at the age 16, Bell went on to receive his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Howard University and his master’s from New York University. From 1961 to 1963, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a 1st Lieutenant. Before being elected the mayor of Durham in 2001, Bell retired from IBM as a senior engineer. He also severed as a Durham County Commissioner and chairman of the Durham Board of County Commissioners.    

Bell is recognized as the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. He served the citizens of Durham for four consecutive terms, until he decided not to run for re-election in 2017. Before accepting the coveted crystal cup during the awards ceremony last weekend, Bell said he was honored to be recognized by his peers. He said he would not be the man he is today without the guidance he received at Atkins.

“This is really an honorable occasion for me. It feels great to be recognized by your peers and former classmates,” continued Bell. “Atkins’ fingerprints are all over me. It gave me everything I’ve been successful at doing and I’ll never forget it and I’ll always be indebted to Atkins High School and what it did for me.”

The second award was presented to 1970 graduate Harold Epps, the director of commerce for the City of Philadelphia. As director of commerce, Epps oversees and implements polices to help both small businesses and major corporations in Philadelphia thrive. Before that, Epps served as vice chairman of the board of PRWT Services, one of the country’s largest minority-owned firms and provider of high-performance business solutions, facilities management and infrastructure support service.

As he stood before his peers and former classmates, Epps said he had received a lot of awards over the years, but the Legacy Award is one that will stay near and dear to his heart. He said, “I would say whatever I’ve done in my life, what you expected me to do, it’s a blessing to have some level of achievement, because there are so many Atkins’ graduates who paved the way in so many different fields.”

The lone female alumnus to be recognized during the ceremony was 1963 graduate Dr. Caroline Lattimore. A trailblazer, Lattimore was the only African American to receive a Ph.D. in 1977 from Duke University and was appointed assistant provost and dean of minority affairs by former Governor Terry Sanford, who was president of Duke at the time. In 1991 Dr. Lattimore was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U. S. Pentagon Committee, where she served as national chair of the Quality of Life Committee for the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. The position allowed Lattimore to visit military bases across the world including England, Germany, Bosnia, Russia, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and Spain. When reflecting on her time spent at Atkins, Lattimore said it was a wonderful experience. She said there was a sense of pride that exuded from every student who went to Atkins.

“Atkins had a sense of family. You always felt like you belonged at Atkins. When I started teaching at a predominately white school, I missed that but it didn’t bother me much because I knew my stuff because Atkins taught me that,” continued Lattimore. “Atkins taught me to be respectful, know your stuff and friends will come.”

The final alumni award was presented to former State Representative Larry Womble. A native of Winston-Salem, after graduating from Atkins in 1959, Womble continued his education at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) where he earned his bachelor’s in education. He then attended the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG) where he earned his master’s of education degree in administration.

At the age of 40, Womble launched his political career with his election to the Winston-Salem Board of Alderman (now Winston-Salem City Council). He served the citizens of Winston-Salem as an alderman until 1993 and in 1995 he was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly. Womble is also well known throughout the community as an activist who is willing to stand up for what’s right.

Womble said he will look back on the event last weekend and cherish it forever. When discussing his experience, Womble said Atkins was the best school in the country. “Atkins, in my opinion, was the greatest school, not in Winston-Salem, not in this state, but it was the greatest high school in this nation. Some of us realize that and some of us don’t. Hopefully when you leave here tonight, you will have that same feeling,” continued Womble. “There will never be another Atkins; they built a new one, but that’s not Atkins. The real Atkins High School Camels is the legacy right there on Cameron Avenue.”

Before wrapping up the event, Billie Matthews, a former teacher at Atkins, was recognized for her commitment to the students and the school. The final remarks were delivered by Atkins’ alumnus and former teacher at the school, Dr. Virginia Newell.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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