Bruce R Watkins Kansas City, Missouri Leader and Successful Black Entrepreneur
July 14, 2008
Bruce R. Watkins was Kansas City’s first African Ameriican city council member and he also made a serious run for Kansas City mayor. Richard Berkley beat him, but make no mistake in that Watkins made a deep impact.
The impact was so deep that Kansas City considers Bruce R. Watkins as a local hero worthy of historic recognition. In his name and honor are the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center located in Kansas City and the Spriti of Freedom fountain.
Watkins stepfather was Theron B. (T.B.) Watkins, who married his mother, Olivia and adopted Bruce when he was a young boy. Theron served on the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from 1941 to 1948. The T.B. Watkins Housing Complex was named after him and is located on 12th and Woodland for his hardwork and commitment to the community.
T.B. was big on rallying folks together to work on community projects such as the Kansas City clean-up campaign of 1940. He organized the Gateway Athletic Association to help the Kansas City youth by participating in sports and raised money through fundraisers for the construction of the Paseo branch of teh YMCA.
Bruce Watkins, who rose to become chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, once followed in his father’s footsteps and actively served in the Republican Party.
As city councilman, Bruce successfully fought for civil rights issues by pushing for equal employment opportunities at city hall. He introduced Public Accommodations Ordinance No. 29153, which prohibited discrimination against African-Americans in all public business establishments, including restaurants, stores and theaters. The city council passed the ordinance on September 13, 1963. The ordinance was then subjected to a public referendum in one of the city’s most heated campaigns. The issue passed by 1700 votes on April 8, 1964.
Bruce was sworn in as a Jackson County Circuit Court Clerk in 1966, where he is credited with streamlining the office’s accounting system, investing idle funds, upgrading office equipment and establishing a businesslike approach to employee problems.
Bruce R. Watkins lost his battle with cancer in 1980 but his legacy still lives on. Undoubetedly, his own son, Bruce R. Watkins, Jr. is active in the Kansas City community and continues in his father’s footsteps as a successful businessman.
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