Theron B. and Bruce Watkins
Few goals were too ambitious for Bruce R. Watkins, Kansas City's first African American to serve on the city council and make a serious run for mayor. Although he lost his bid for mayor in 1979 to Dick Berkley, Watkins left an indelible mark in Kansas City history.
Watkins' leadership was rooted in a proud family tradition established by his stepfather, the legendary Theron B. (T. B.) Watkins, who adopted Bruce upon marrying his mother, Olivia. T. B. Watkins served on the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from 1941 to 1948. Named in his honor in 1952, the T. B. Watkins Housing Complex still stands at 12th & Woodland as a testament to his service and dedication.
The elder Watkins motivated countless individuals to commit their time and funds to community projects, including the city clean-up campaign of 1940, fundraising for construction of The Paseo branch of the YMCA, and organizing the Gateway Athletic Association, a youth sports organization.
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.
Monuments erected in Bruce’s honor include the Spirit of Freedom fountain at Brush Creek Boulevard and Cleveland Avenue and the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center at Blue Parkway and Cleveland Avenue. Both landmarks are within walking distance of the family business co-founded by T. B., Watkins Brothers Memorial Chapel.
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