Heights History (A Slight Return): The Opinionated Bernard Atkins

This Heights History story originally ran in July 2009:

On November 2, 1971 the New York Times told the story of florist/real estate agent Bernard Atkins.

At that time, Atkins was in the middle of intertwined controversies.

The first involved attacks upon his James Weir Florist Shop at 160 Montague Street.   The newspaper reported that its huge store front window had been attacked four times by “brickbat, two crude pipebomb explosions and a spatter of six air gun shots.”

Atkins used his shop window to post “editorials” written with magic marker on large pieces of paper and taped to the glass.  Many were political attacks against President Nixon, the Vietnam War and J. Edgar Hoover.

However, Atkins believed his advocacy of a “black dentist’s” attempt to purchase 152 Montague Street and his blaming racism for the deal  falling through was the motive for the attack.   After the incident,  he chose to write an editorial about the situation for the first time.   Headlined “We Won’t Give Up”, the piece told neighbors that he was helping the man purchase the building to “prevent further loss of freedom in this country.”

RELATED: “The Nabeguy Collection”: Photos Of Brooklyn Heights In The 1950s

Others in Brooklyn Heights disagreed with Atkins’ claim, suggesting that his true motives were to earn a $6,800  commission on the sale (he was the real estate agent) as well as consummating a side deal he made with the current owner to buy his competing floral business, also at 152 Montague.

Aside from storefront editorials, Atkins  and his wife Charlotte were part of a neighborhood circle of friends who provided shelter and food for homeless man John Sigurd Nelson aka “The Viking”.  For several months before his death in 1989 the Atkins’ allowed Nelson to sleep in the basement of the flower shop.  According to his New York Times obituary, Nelson was well known in the Heights for his “public orations on the news of the day and politics, his admiration for Princess Diana and his passion for buttermilk.”

Did you know the Atkins? The Viking? Have any more information? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Sylvester

    I remember the “Viking”. He was usually at the corner of Joralemon Steet and Clinton in the 70’s and 80’s. He only had one hand.

    Rumor was that he had a twin brother, who lived in the North Heights, who abandoned him. Supposedly a barber shop gave him a “make-over” and posted a before and after picture of him. That caused his brother a lot of embarrassment. Might be just a rumor.

  • ursulahahn

    Was the Brooklyn Heights “Viking” by any chance the same “Viking” who could be seen in Manhattan on Sixth Avenue and 53rd Street in the late 1960’s, at the corner of what became CBS’s Black Rock?

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com/ Claude Scales

    The “Viking” you’re thinking of was Moondog: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moondog

    Not the same as the Brooklyn Heights Viking.