By Brother David L. Carl
Immigrating from humble origins, the Barbadian scholar rose to prominence as the second coming of George Washington Carver by revolutionizing the paper making process. He began life in America working on a steamship in 1917 to fund his education. Even after graduating from Tufts College, and earning his master’s degree with eyes set on a career in industrial chemistry, he continued to meet innumerable racial barriers.
Recognized firms would not hire a Black chemist then, and colleagues urged him to shift to pharmacy or medicine. Undaunted by the perils of discrimination, he worked as a waiter to again fund further academic pursuits. Victoriously, he emerged as the first Black PhD. from the Univ. of Iowa. Newspapers recount that, “Dr. Atkins is due unprecedented honors for overcoming uncounted insurmountable. As a member of the American Chemical Society he is eligible to attend the meeting of the Charlotte chapter; yet when he does, he cannot sit for the luncheon, and men of less mettle refuse to speak to him.”
Despite extreme prejudice and petty jealousy, Dr. Atkins remained resolute, always striving for excellence as a chemist and professor.