By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on August 3, 2023
We met in Atlanta for three days last weekend. It was a family gathering for the Levi and Lillian Watkins branch of the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family tree.
We were not gathering for the funeral of a deceased relative or because a family member was in trouble and needed to be rescued.
The gathering in Atlanta continues a family tradition that spans six generations in America. Only family members were present.
We gathered to: (a) celebrate our love for Levi and Lillian Watkins and for one another, (b) cherish our memories of Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins "Bridge Builders" who paved the way for our successes in life, (c) share the achievements of family members who have/are uplifting humanity around the globe, and (d) chart the course of our family’s aspirations for the future.
I am one of four surviving children of Levi Watkins and Lillian Bernice Varnado. The other three are my sisters Annie Marie Watkins Deep, Doristine Watkins Minott, and James Watkins. Our sister Emma Pearl and brother Levi, Jr., died years ago
Throughout the course of life, one document has guided my siblings and me on our journey through life. It means more to us than anything else in our possession. It is titled “Certificate of Birth” and it lists Lillian and Levi Watkins as our parents.
There are only six of these birth certificates in the world and I hold one of them. No matter where I go or what I do in life, I will always be Lillian and Levi Watkins’ ambassador to the larger world, and I will always strive to represent them well.
A Family Tradition that Started With William Carmichael and Olivia Williamson
The family gathering in Atlanta energized me and reminded me that we come from good roots. It was also the first time I had seen and hugged Donald, Jr., in four years.
For three days, my siblings and I were surrounded by our children, and grandchildren. We had a new edition this year -- my great granddaughter, Azayah Jordan Deese. Azayah ushers in a seventh generation of Watkins family members at the gathering.
The gatherings started with William Carmichael, who met and fell in love with a beautiful “mulatto” girl in Mississippi named Olivia Williamson. They were my great grandparents. William and Olivia married in Crawford Station, Mississippi, on March 25, 1865 -- about two weeks before General Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 confederate troops to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.
Here is the first known portrait of Olivia and William Carmichael and their children:
In 1957, the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family gathered at the Memphis, Tennessee home of Reverend Willie Varnado and his wife, Oda Etta Carmichael, my material grandparents. Reverend Varnado was a prominent local minister and civic leader in the city.
My parents (Levi and Lillian Watkins), three sisters (Marie, Pearl, and Doristine), and two brothers (Levi, Jr., and James) are seated/standing on the back row, from right to left. I am the nine-year-old boy with the striped shirt and overalls.
At the time of this gathering, my dad was president of S.A. Owen Junior College in Memphis. My mom was the college’s First Lady.
A Purpose-Driven Life
Whenever we get together at our family gatherings, we do not talk about material things or gossip about what those who are outside of our family may or may not be doing.
Instead, we focus on: (a) our love and support for each other, (b) great ideas in business, (c) innovative breakthroughs in medicine and advances in technology, (d) emerging trends in domestic and international affairs, and (e) our family’s ongoing commitment to serve humanity.
In the Watkins family, we know what love is:
Since 1865, the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family has always been full of love, has always been racially mixed, and has always taken care of its own. Our validation as human beings comes from within our family and is anchored by our knowledge of the Watkins family's documented history in America.
Our gatherings have helped six generations of family members: (a) weather the brutal oppression of the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras in America, (b) overcome the massive resistance to the 20th and 21st century struggles for civil rights for African-Americans and women, (c) neutralize the never-ending and mutating forms of "Old School" racism and sexism, and (d) embrace the emergence of a global society. The gatherings have become an integral part of our family’s preparation for generational success.
One of my responsibilities within this close-knit family is to write and publish articles about the true state of affairs and challenges confronting blacks and women in America. The primarily audience for my articles is the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family and its circle of close friends and supporters. My articles are used as navigational instruments for family members, friends, and supporters as they sail the vast and often unpredictable seas in life. To the extent that these articles also benefit the general public, that's great.
My father performed this function when he published The New Herald in Clarksville, Tennessee in the 1930s and ASU Today in Montgomery, Alabama in the late 1970s.
Finally, the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family recognizes that to whom much is given, much will be required. Luke 12:48. This Biblical passage drives our service to humanity. No further motivation is needed.