Class of ’71 turns 60
Members of the Atkins High School Class of 1971, the last class to graduate from the historically African American school before integration forced its closure, held an all-white party July 12 at the Millennium Center Friday night to celebrate their 60th birthdays.
In between the laughs, music, food and dancing, members of the Class reflected on their time at Atkins and lamented the school’s closing.
In its last days, Atkins High was home to a hodgepodge of students. Some Atkins upperclassmen decided to leave the school to integrate other county schools, and Atkins got its share of new faces as well.
“While we may not have (all) known each other, we still respected each other, worked together and took pride in the accomplishments,” said Annette Wilson, chair of the class reunion steering committee. “We took pride whether you were on the basketball team, or part of the art club or the yearbook staff or the honors society; we were all proud of each other.”
Wilson and her classmates learned shortly after graduation that their beloved school would be shuttered. Gwen Smith-Rasheed, chair of the reunion social committee, said the news was devastating to her and her peers.
“Our mothers and grandmothers went to that school,” she said “… It closed down overnight without warning.”
Atkins was eventually reopened as a middle school before the building housed the Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. In 2006, the school system decided to preserve the name by naming a newly-built school, Atkins Academic and Technology High School, in tribute to the historic school, but alumni say nothing can replace the Atkins they knew and continue to love.
“When that was lost, it seemed like the community died somewhat,” said Andrew Lindsay Jr., who co-chairs a class golf tournament. “It was like losing your best friend or losing your parent.”
The Class of 1971 is active year-round, coming together frequently for fun social events as well as charitable ones, such as adopting families for the holidays and hosting clothing giveaways for the homeless. The class also donated money to help students at Ashley Elementary School fund a trip to Washington, D.C.
A portion of the proceeds from its golf tournament also go to a worthy cause. This year, $1,000 was donated to Winston-Salem Prep, which has inhabited the old Atkins High building on Cameron Avenue since 2004.
“We give back to the community because the community was good for us in the days of segregation and integration,” said Renee Phillips, the secretary for the City of Winston-Salem.
Like Phillips, many members of the class have accomplished much in their 60 years of life. The class has doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. Phillips believes the success that she and her classmates achieved is a testament to the teachers at Atkins.
“The teachers prepared us for life,” she said. “They prepared us academically; they prepared us socially, so we were ready when we graduated Atkins.”