Algerene M. Craig, educator, historian, and the first Black elementary school librarian in Texas and the Southwest, was born Algerene Moniceita Akins to William and Lula (Smith) Akins on April 28, 1909, in Austin, Texas. Her father, a florist and gardener, and her mother, a laundress, divorced in 1918. She attended Anderson High School in Austin, then graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Prairie View College (now Prairie View A&M University) in 1931. She later earned an elementary school certification in library science from the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin as well as a master of science degree from Prairie View College. She began her teaching career at St. Paul Junior College in Mexia, Texas. By 1932 she worked as a teacher in the segregated Austin public school system.
In 1934 Algerene Akins organized the first library at the Gregory Town School (later E. L. Blackshear Elementary School) in Austin at the request of school principal Friendly Rudolph Rice. She started with 150 books donated by Larry White, a Black employee at the state Capitol, and start-up funds of $25 from the Parent Teachers Association and $25 from the Austin School Board. She worked as a teacher, librarian, and assistant principal at Blackshear Elementary School until Austin Independent School District’s cross-over plan for desegregation in 1970 after which she was a librarian at Rosedale Elementary School. She retired after forty-three years of educational service in Austin. In 1971 the Blackshear PTA donated a portrait of her to the school library.
On June 12, 1940, Akins married Isaac Arnold Craig, Jr., at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin. Her husband worked at Austin’s famed Night Hawk Restaurant, under Harry Akins, for forty-two years. Hired as a dishwasher in 1932, he worked as a cook in 1940, rose to chef by 1949, kitchen manager by 1953, and a manager by 1957. By the time he retired in February 1974 he was a stockholder and a member of the board of directors for the Night Hawk Corporation.
Perhaps Algerene Craig’s most noted contribution was documenting and preserving Austin history, which is reflected in her work for the Travis County Historical Commission (TCHC) and the W. H. Passon Historical Society. The first Black woman to serve on the TCHC, she helped secure historical markers for a number of Black churches in East Austin, including Ebenezer Baptist Church, First Baptist (Colored) Church, Mt. Olive Baptist Church, and Wesley United Methodist Church. She researched and donated the historical marker for the Thompson Home, purchased by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., at 1171 San Bernard Street, in Austin. With her historical research expertise, markers were also obtained for the Original L. C. Anderson High School (second school location at 1607 Pennsylvania Ave.) and Kealing Junior High School (now Kealing Middle School) at the same address. She also authored an article on Maud A. Fuller, noted Black Baptist church leader and educator, for the Texas State Historical Association’s The New Handbook of Texas (1996). To recognize her work, she was awarded the Black Heritage Outstanding Citizen Award in 1988.
Craig’s community memberships and affiliations included the Alpha Kappa Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, in which she was a charter member of the graduate chapter, founded in February 18, 1940, at the Blackshear Elementary School campus. She was a charter member and first president of the Zeta Phi Beta Chi Chapter at Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University). She was also a life member of the Austin Section of the National Council of Negro Women, the Austin Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Education Association, and the American Association of University Women. She was honored as the recipient of the Personalities of the South Award in 1969 and the Austin Living Legend Award in 1994. In 1985 she and Attorney General Jim Mattox served as honorary chairs of the Capitol’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration committee.
She and her husband were staunch members of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where she served as Sunday school teacher, librarian, choir member, and worked for the Tape Ministry that distributed recordings of the previous Sunday church serviced to sick and elderly congregants unable to attend. In 1957 she organized the church’s clothing bank which opened to all East Austin families, regardless of ethnicity or race. Her charitable activities extended beyond the United States to projects in Africa and Japan. She also did volunteer work with various nursing homes as well as organizations such as the Sunshine Benevolent Club, the Christmas Bureau, and the Capital City Lioness Club, which was the female counterpart to the Capital City Lions Club (first African American Lions group in the United States).
Algerene M. Akins Craig died on February 28, 1996, at St. David's Hospital in Austin, Texas. She was buried at the Assumption Cemetery near her husband, who died in 1989, in Austin. The Isaac and Algerene Craig Memorial Scholarship Fund was established at Ebenezer Baptist Church soon after her death. In November 2018 she was recognized posthumously with the 2018 Golden Apple Award by the Alpha Kappa Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority for her contributions in education. Mrs. Estella Akins, the wife of her cousin, educator William Charles Akins, received the award on her behalf. Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum featured her in an exhibit in May 2019. Her papers have been preserved as a subseries of the Heritage Marketing series in the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau Records housed at the Austin History Center in Austin.