Education alleviates ignorance and elevates us to a higher frequency of awareness. This applies to the education of history as well. By keeping an accurate record of our history and acknowledging this record—sustaining by informing younger generations of our mistakes and our triumphs—we believe, or at least hope, we will somehow be allowed to stay on a road of progression.
This concept is one believed and put into daily practice by Maurice Lamont Adkins. Adkins—budding historian, Yates Fellow, passionate teacher and future professor—is a PhD student with a keen desire to impact the world through honoring history and higher education. Maybe the best way to understand Adkins is to first know that his favorite book is “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison and that his current reading list is dominated by letters black ministers penned advocating for rural North Carolina schools, circa 1866.
The youngest of four children and a first-generation college student, Adkins is a native North Carolinian. He graduated with his BA in history from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University before receiving his master’s from East Tennessee State. Adkins’ doctoral studies concentrate on African American history with a secondary focus on the history of race. His dissertation, titled, “Leadership in the Shadow of Jim Crow: The Politics of Agriculture and Industrial Education in North Carolina, 1880–1925,” exposes the development of African American educational institutions born amongst strong race, labor, and political influences.
His research depicts the remarkable and often unheard-of leaders and founders of black institutions and the ways they navigated the racial politics of their time. Such leaders include James Dudley (president of The Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored People, present day North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University—yes, the same institution from which Adkins received his bachelor’s) and James Shepard (founder of the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, present day North Carolina Central University). Adkins explains how these men—who happened to be close friends, no less—used their institutions to elevate black farmers and artisans, create a greater sense of community, and provide loans to African American entrepreneurs.
“I want to trace this history to provide an understanding of the importance of strong and dedicated leadership by individuals such as James Dudley. Today, leadership is key at historically black colleges and universities as it is connected to their survival,” says Adkins. “The lives of these leaders and the political debates about these institutions are informative to our understanding of the importance of black colleges. The institutions are not only monuments to the former slaves who built them but a testament to the struggles faced by African Americans to garner an education in a country bound by racial discord and animus.”
And when Adkins says that former slaves built these beloved institutions, he’s speaking in a literal sense. Not only was James Dudley the former slave of North Carolinian governor Edward Bishop Dudley, but the students, teachers and founders of these black colleges physically constructed the actual structures, brick by brick.
In addition to his dissertation research, Adkins is currently working on an article—one he hopes to publish by the end of the 2017–18 academic year—that exposes the history of black schools in his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina; a town that holds historical significance in the African American education movement following the civil war. “Salisbury had a very active African-American community and the heavy presence of benevolent organizations in the area made the city an active participant in the establishment of schools for black children,” says Adkins, “I want to unpack this narrative to give voice to those individuals who were significant to the movement.”
Beyond his extensive research and writing, Adkins serves as both a teacher of African American history for the Upward Bound Program (a summer-long preparation course at UC for incoming college students) and a teaching assistant for the history department. Fulfilling these roles as educator has convinced Adkins that his chosen career path is, in fact, the right one. “I think each year invigorates my will to become a professor because of the rapport I build with the students and the skills I gain from leading these courses. I always reflect on how important mentoring is to our youth. If I can help as many people as possible to reach their academic goals, then I fulfilled my duties as a mentor.”
In the case of his long-term goals, after Adkins completes a post-doctoral program he hopes to obtain a tenure track position and meticulously work his way into administration. “My goal is to eventually become an effective president at a college or university,” he says.
But this is not to say that Adkins will ever forget where he came from, and who has helped him along the way. “I know that I will leave UC with lifelong networks, particularly with my professors who have been instrumental in my current and future success at UC.”
And, above all else, Adkins plans to continue educating his history students, especially in the scope of African American history. Alleviating ignorance and creating a higher frequency of awareness is what this historian, educator, and PhD student has dedicated himself to. As a future professor and leader, Adkins intends to keep informing younger generations of our mistakes and triumphs whilst honoring history and staying on a road of progression.
“What I see from those short historical narratives is a broader story about a moment that shaped our past, present, and future,” he says. “For some, it may seem like just a moment in time, but for me it’s a story that continues to shape our present and future. And like many historians, I try to place myself in that time to understand the significance of that moment. My friends may see it as me acting like a nerd of history, but for me, it’s what drives my passion to become a great historian. My curiosity has pushed me this far. I wonder where it will take me next.”
Written by Danniah Daher, graduate assistant to the graduate school office.