Francis Loguen Atkins was born December 6, 1896, in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was the fifth of six sons and three daughters born to Simon Green Atkins and Oleona Pegram Atkins, founders of Slater Industrial Academy (now Winston-Salem State University). Francis Atkins received his early education at the school and was raised in the community of Black professionals and artisans his father also founded, Columbian Heights. In 1920, Atkins graduated as class valedictorian from Lincoln University ( Pennsylvania) with the Bachelor of Arts degree. Although he had initially planned to attend Yale in preparation for a career in the Christian ministry, Atkins was asked by Slater’s Board of Trustee Chairman, Henry E. Fries, to return to Winston-Salem to assist his father. In this capacity, F. L. Atkins taught classes and served as assistant principal of Columbian Heights High School.
In 1924, Atkins received the Master of Arts degree from Columbia University and completed coursework for the doctoral degree. He returned to Winston-Salem and to employment on the Winston-Salem Teachers College campus, including roles as an instructor of education and as dean. There he met and married the former Martha Spencer, an instructor of piano and music at the school. Following the retirement and subsequent death of his father, Simon Green Atkins, in 1934, the younger Atkins was elected to succeed his father as president of the college.
Under his administration, Winston-Salem State University became the first predominantly African-American college in North Carolina to receive accreditation and membership in the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and full membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Also during his tenure, seven academic buildings and residence halls were built, and degree programs in teacher education and nursing were developed. Atkins officially retired from Winston-Salem Teachers College (now WSSU) in 1961 after 27 years of service. In 1978, Winston-Salem State University named Atkins “President Emeritus.” He died on January 26, 1982, following a brief illness.