Robert Harry Akin Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
Robert Harry Akin was born near Longview, Texas on September 3, 1903 to Ollie S. and Robert Harry Akin, Sr. He grew up on a dairy farm with six siblings. After completing high school Akin attended the University of Texas at Austin as a pre-med student. While at UT he became involved with the Curtain Club, the college theater group, and decided to try to "make it in the movies." He went on the road with a traveling theatrical tent show for the next few years.
After returning to Austin, Texas, Akin opened up the first Night Hawk Restaurant on December 24, 1932 in an abandoned fruit stand on the corner of South Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive. From there he created a vertically integrated food service business that included seven more restaurants; Akin Farm, a cattle ranch supplying meat for his restaurants; and a frozen food processing plant and retail distribution network.
Akin first married Bonnie Mae Wheat. He later married Josephine Dunlop in 1944, who died in 1966. His married third wife, Lela Jane Schueler Sumner, in 1967.
While building up his own restaurant business Akin was also involved in various restaurant and civic organizations at the local, state, national and international levels. He served as the President of the Austin Rotary Club in 1950-1951; founded the Austin Restaurant Association; received the Outstanding Restauranteur Award from the Texas Restaurant Association; served as President of the National Restaurant Association and member of that organization's Government Affairs Committee; and served as Vice-President of the International Association of Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe Owners.
Highlighting his interest in civic affairs is Akin's active involvement in desegregation issues at the local and national level. Beginning with the integration of his restaurants in 1959 Akin went on to push for desegregation throughout Austin. During 1963-1964 he met with the United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy, as well as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to discuss the desegregation of public facilities across the nation. Locally, Akin served on the Austin Human Relations Committee as chair, the National Citizens Committee for Community Relations, the Committee of Human Opportunity, and actively supported the proposed Anti-Discrimination Ordinance and the Open Housing Ordinance.
Akin first ran for a seat on the Austin City Council Place 2 in 1965 but lost his bid to Ben White. He ran again two years later and was elected to Place 4 on City Council and was appointed Mayor (during this time the City Council decided amongst themselves who served as mayor). His 1969 election bid resulted in defeat and Akin retired from public office. In the remaining eight years before his death in 1976 Akin remained active in running his businesses and civic affairs. He continued to support a Civic Center plan that he had promoted while mayor and lent his support to others running for public office.
Correspondence, newspaper clippings, writings, meeting minutes, financial documents, memorabilia, and photographic materials document four decades of the public life of Robert Harry Akin. Arranged into three series: Politics and Government, Food Service Industry and Dramatic Endeavors, the collection spans the years 1942 through 1976.
A significant portion of the Politics and Government series (1958-1976) consists of materials documenting to Akin's participation in promoting civil rights in Austin, Texas. Included are records that highlight his active role in desegregating restaurants and hotels in Austin, his involvement with the City of Austin Human Relations Committee, and The Community Council of Austin and Travis County Human Opportunity Committee. Correspondence and a speech given to the Rotary Club highlight Akin's role in integrating restaurants in Austin. Included are the letters he received in support and opposition to integration, letters he sent to various restaurant owners urging their participation and letters he received and sent to Robert Kennedy and Office of the Attorney General in 1963 regarding the progress made in Austin in integrating hotels and restaurants. Much of the Human Relations Committee materials relate to the report the Committee presented to the Austin City Council and the discussion as to whether a local anti-discrimination ordinance was needed or if voluntary participation by private businesses was more effective and provides insight into political issues of the time. Also debated was the need for a Human Relations/Rights Commission to investigate complaints regarding discrimination in the City of Austin. Committee materials include correspondence, reports, press releases, meeting minutes, City Council meeting transcripts and newspaper clippings. Also included are memorandum detailing segregation at Brackenridge Hospital; reports, speeches and newspaper clipping related to civil rights and integration; and a biographical sketch about Akin and his work in civil rights.
Also included in the Politics and Government series are materials related to Akin’s three campaigns for Austin City Council in 1965, 1967 and 1969. Documents related to the unsuccessful 1965 campaign include letters received supporting his candidacy, letters sent soliciting votes and assorted notes and lists. Materials documenting his successful 1967 campaign and his unsuccessful 1969 campaign also include letters received supporting his candidacy and letters sent soliciting votes; as well as campaign fund records including invoices and receipts, lists of expenses, lists of contributors, and balance sheets; press releases and radio advertisement scripts; speeches; elections results broken down by precinct; campaign memorabilia and photographs; and newspaper clippings.
Lastly, the Politics and Government series contains speeches, correspondence, reports, newspaper clippings and letters to the editor documenting Akin's national and local political interests. Akin started Austin Businessmen for Johnson Committee in 1964 and included are letters written to convince others to join, as well as speeches, membership lists and planning documents for a rally. In addition, there are newspaper clippings concerning the bus franchise contract with Austin Transit, budget and taxes, the Mount Bonnell purchase, wage study and the growth and future of Austin; copies of the Wray Weddell column from The Austin Statesman; a press release expressing Akin’s dismay regarding the forced resignation of City Manager Robert Tinstman; speeches and correspondence questioning the planning process for a new civic center for Austin; press release supporting and newspaper clippings about the Model Cities program started during his time as Mayor; and a letter to the editor and press release questioning the leadership of Austin.
The Food Service Industry series (1942-1973) consists of materials related to Akin’s participation in the National Restaurant Association and the International Association of Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe Owners, as well as his ownership of the Night Hawk/Frisco restaurants and the Akin Farm. The majority of the materials associated with two restaurant associations concern European trips and include menus, itineraries, memorabilia and photographs. In addition, there is a small amount of association business correspondence, meeting agendas, reports, programs and newspaper clippings. The collection also contains a small amount of materials related to Akin's business enterprises. There is correspondence that illustrates how Akin mixed his business and politics and documents his relationship with Governor John and Nellie Connally and J. J. Pickle. Akin, for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, lobbied both state and local politicians to change the law to allow the "sale and service of liquor by the drink" as evidenced by the press release and speech to Austin City Council. And lastly, there are marketing and publicity brochures, clippings, press releases and a photograph of the Night Hawk and Akin Farm.
The Dramatic Endeavors series (1942-1953) contains a script, playbills and newspaper clippings for The Philadelphia Story and The Silver Whistle. Akin acted in both plays in 1953.
Open to all users
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Robert Harry Akin Papers (AR.Z.016). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1983/015
Donation Date: 1990
Inventoried by Mark E. Martin and Sarah M. Safranek in 1990. Finding aid created and encoded by Molly Hults in 2017.
Akin's mayoral papers were separated from his personal papers in 2017 and a new collection (AR.2017.016) was created.
Detailed Description of the Collection