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JOSEPH L. ATKINS

Denied Entry to North Texas State College

Joseph "Joe" L. Atkins was denied entry to North Texas State College (now University of North Texas) on the basis of race in 1955, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Brown vs. Board of Education, public school segregation as unconstitutional. Represented by NAACP lawyers, Atkins’ family sued the school in federal district court (Atkins v. Matthews). In December 1955 Judge Joe Sheehy ruled in favor of Atkins, primarily on the basis of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and issued a permanent injunction against North Texas’s denying admission to Atkins or other African Americans on the basis of race. This paved the way for Irma L. Sephus to become the school’s first African American undergraduate student in 1956. Although Joseph completed his undergraduate degree at a different school due to the time required to litigate his case, he returned to North Texas in 1967 where he earned his master’s degree. He also was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from UNT in 2004.