A. M. Aikin, Jr., legislator, son of A. M. and Mattie (Stephens) Aikin, was born at Aikin Grove in Red River County, Texas, on October 9, 1905. His parents moved to Lamar County in 1907 to operate a country store. Aikin attended a three-teacher school in Milton, then rode horseback four miles to Deport each day until he graduated from high school. He credited his lifetime interest in education to the early personal difficulties he encountered in acquiring his own education. He milked cows to earn room and board at Paris Junior College and worked in a department store in Paris from 1925 to 1931 to earn enough money to attend Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he graduated with a bachelor of laws degree in 1932. In 1929 Aikin married Welma Morphew, a lifelong advocate of landscape beautification, whose career included serving as a regent of Paris Junior College. The Aikins had one son.
Aikin, a Democrat, began his political career in 1932, when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. He completed two terms before going to the Senate in 1937. He served forty-six years in the state's two legislative chambers and missed only 2½ legislative days in his career. From his first year in elective office, he supported every major educational bill passed by the legislature. He was an advocate of all-weather farm-road legislation on the grounds that schools were of little value to students if they were inaccessible.
Aikin, "the father of modern Texas education," is best remembered as the cosponsor with Representative Claud Gilmer of Rocksprings of the Gilmer-Aikin Laws. These measures, passed in 1949, established a centralized state education system and the Minimum Foundation school program, which provided state-financed minimum teachers' salaries and set guaranteed public school funding levels for other related expenditures. In addition Aikin authored legislation to increase state aid to public schools, including colleges, and sponsored a bill in 1933 to establish the Teacher Retirement System, which became a constitutional amendment in 1937. In 1956 he sponsored an amendment to establish a minimum retirement compensation of $100 a month to attract capable teachers to the profession.
Aikin served on the Senate Finance Committee beginning in 1937, when he became a senator, and chaired that committee from 1967 until he retired in 1979. In 1943 he was president pro tem of the Senate and acting governor for fourteen days in the absence of Governor Coke Stevenson. Aikin became dean of the Senate in 1963 and dean emeritus upon his retirement.
The A. M. and Welma Aikin Regional Archives, a part of the Mike Rheudasil Learning Center at Paris Junior College, was established to honor Aikin in 1978 and houses his papers, a replica of his Senate office, and a gallery of memorabilia related to his career. The archives also houses local-history manuscript collections from Delta, Fannin, Lamar, and Red River counties and is a regional depository for the local records division of the Texas State Library. The Aikin Monolith, a Texas red granite monument, towers outside the entrance to the Aikin Archives, a gift of the Texas Association of Public Junior Colleges.
Aikin died in Paris on October 24, 1981. In 1985 the A. M. Aikin Regents Chair in Junior and Community College Education and the A. M. Aikin Regents Chair in Education Leadership were established at the University of Texas, with a total endowment of $1 million. Former Paris Junior College president Louis B. Williams led the fund-raising effort. The total gift of $500,000 was matched from the Permanent University Fund to establish the memorial.