Atkins had not intended to stay in Boston after he got his master's degree in economics from Harvard, but he was totally involved with the NAACP and consequently with Boston politics. So seven years after he walked into the local NAACP office to research a paper, the Elkhart, Ind., native decided to make Boston his home.
His four years as a city councilman often saw him engaged in frequent and acrimonious disagreement with Mayor Kevin White, whom outsiders saw as Atkins' ideological bedfellow. Nowhere was the feud between the mayor and the black councilman more apparent than during Atkins' bid for mayor in 1971. Atkins launched constant attacks against White's administration, including much publicized attacks on no-bid city contracts that had been awarded. The mayor, for his part, dismissed Atkins as a publicity seeker.
Atkins was, despite his other jobs in the city, continued his interest in the well-being of the Boston branch NAACP. And in 1974, the organization - underfinanced, leaderless and demoralized - elected Atkins as its president.