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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Adam Watkins: One of My Earliest Mentors in Life, Business, and Politics

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on November 26, 2023

Fifthy-five years ago, the Sunday, September 8, 1968, edition of the Clarksville-Leaf Chroncile featured an article in its "Modern Living" section on the life and work of Adam Watkins. He was my paternal grandfather.

This article was special to our family because it was the first time the Clarksville-Leaf Chroncile featured a black man and his family outside of the "Colored News " section of the newspaper.

Adam Watkins was not an athlete or entertainer. He was a succesful businessman in Clarksville,Tennessee. He owned an operated Adam Watkins Plumbing Company. With three trucks and up to 30 day-laborers, Adam Watkins ran the biggest plumbing company in town.

Adam Watkins was not only my grandfather, but he was also one of my earliest mentors in life, business, and politics.

Adam and Sallie Watkins

My lessons on manhood came early. Adam Watkins taught me what he imparted to his sons -- “God made you a man, so be a man.” There is nothing ambiguous about who Watkins men are or what we stand for.

Adam and Sallie Watkins lived in Clarksville from the 1930s through 1970s.

Adam Watkins gave me my first summer job -- a plumber’s apprentice -- and my first paychecks. I worked by my grandfather's side during the summers when I was 10 to

13-years-old. I made good money in this job and loved the work.

Granddaddy Watkins had mostly white customers, and he lived at 718 Main Street in Clarksville. Adam Watkins taught me that the ability to render a first class, high-quality business service at a reasonable price transcended race in the segregated South of the 1950s and 60s.

Sallie Emma Watkins handled the company's money and kept its financial books and records. She was the first person to teach me bookkeeping for a business.

Sallie Watkins was strong, smart, loving, and kind. She was Adams' life partner in every way. He loved and adored her.

In 1962, I also watched Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank G. Clement come to granddaddy Watkins’ home in broad daylight and request his political support at a time when only a small number of blacks in the state had the courage to register and vote in Tennessee elections. This visit occured 3 years prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Adam Watkins was prepared for Gov. Clement's visit and had a list of political demands that were aimed at improving the quality of life for blacks throughout Tennessee. A top priority on this list was greater state funding for historically black Tennessee State University, where my father and his sister Cammie attended as students and obtained their undergraduate degrees. Clement made this commitment and kept it after he was elected as governor.

Grandfather Watkins never asked Gov. Clement for anything for himself.

Adam and Sallie Watkins, who were born in 1890 and 1896, respectively, feared no man and were respected by all men and women.

Adam and Sallie Watkins were bridge builders in American society, which is a mission the Watkins family continues to embrace with great pride. We never stop building bridges across the socio-economic divide that defines American society.


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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Dec 01, 2023

Today, a friend of mine sent me the digital version of the Adam Watkins article from the archives of this newspaper. I used a photo of the original article, which is kept in our family's archives. I am grateful for the digital version of this article.


Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Nov 26, 2023

A trained leader will confront evil and conquer it. Fake leaders will merely rationalize and normalize the existence of evil.


Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Nov 26, 2023

Leadership has to be taught early, groomed constantly, and developed over a long period of time. I received leadership training from men like Adam Watkins all of my life. Leadership is tested most often when you have to stand up for the "least of these my brethren," even when you must stand alone. A man who cannot or will not stand up for the "least of these my brethren" is no man at all. He is a castrated eunuch.

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