“A man of courage, a civil rights trailblazer, a champion of socio-economic justice.”
These are just some of the words used by Boston City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo to describe former Councilor-at-large Thomas I. Atkins.
Now, thanks to a unanimously passed order introduced by Arroyo and Council President Stephen Murphy, Atkins will be officially recognized with a conference room in his name. Atkins, who died in 2008 after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, was a mover and a shaker at one of the most tumultuous times in the city’s history.
The firebrand, Harvard educated, lawyer and public servant was elected to the Boston City Council in 1967. He was the first minority elected to the post. He ran for mayor in 1971 and although his bid was unsuccessful he would go on to serve as the first minority member of the state cabinet under Gov. Francis W. Sargent. Atkins would later hold the post of lead lawyer for the NAACP, taking his fight for equality to the national stage.
Atkins is remembered for his role in the desegregation of the Boston Public School system in the 1970s. He served as associate trial counsel for the plaintiffs in the Morgan vs. Hennigan case that would result in the desegregation of Boston Public Schools and busing of students citywide.
Atkins attended Indiana University where he became that school’s first black class president as well as the first black student body president at a Big Ten school. Now, posthumously, Atkins stands to achieve another first, as the new conference room bearing his name will be the first room in City Hall named after a person of color.
In his proposal to the council, Arroyo said, “We have an opportunity here to honor a man who made history right here in Boston … He received regular death threats but he never backed down from his commitment to all of Boston residents having an equal opportunity to succeed.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson commented, “Thomas Atkins fought for civil rights, broke down barriers in Boston city politics and inspired a generation of young people to become engaged in social justice issues. My hope is that I can build upon the legacy left by such a great man.”
The conference room on the east side of the fifth floor at City Hall will be used by the city counsel for meetings and functions.