By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on August 19, 2019
Those who know me on a personal level fully understand my admiration for truly great men and women. It is a product of my childhood, as my father (Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr.) and mother (Mrs. Lillian Bernice Varnado Watkins) were my best friends, personal heroes, and the yardstick by which I measure every man and woman.
In an age of guided missiles and misguided men, I never thought I would meet another man whom I admired and respected as much as my own father and paternal grandfather. That view changed in June of 2015 when I met Mr. Juderson Leslie. He is the father of my girlfriend, Angela Leslie.
Prior to meeting Mr. Leslie, my father and his father, Adam Watkins, were the giants among a select class of men whom I admired and respected the most. Daddy took great care of my mother and their six children. Granddaddy Watkins took care of his wife Sallie Emma and their eight children. He also showed my father how to be a strong and independent man. These two men protected their large families and provided for their needs during the sweltering heat of suffocating racial prejudice and discrimination in the Deep South.
Juderson Leslie has now joined this select class of giants among African-American men. His story is simply incredible.
I first wrote about Mr. Leslie in a November 26, 2017 article titled, “My Trip to Dawes Road: The Incredible Story of Mary and Juderson Leslie.” Since then, I have learned so much more about this remarkable man. Juderson Leslie has taken fatherhood and manhood to a whole new level.
Juderson Leslie, who is 93-years-old today, was the eleventh of twelve children born to Eliza Jane Robinson and Roy Leslie in Monroeville, Alabama. He attended the “colored” schools in Monroeville and progressed to the tenth grade in his formal education.
Juderson Leslie joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and served America overseas in a racially segregated military unit. After the war ended, Mr. Leslie returned home to Monroeville.
He then met and wooed a beautiful young woman named Mary Charles, who was also a Monroeville native. After a short courtship, the couple became engaged and later married. During the course of their marriage, Juderson and Mary Leslie had eleven children. They raised and educated each one of them to become highly successful and productive members of society.
What places Juderson Leslie in the same class as my daddy and granddaddy Adam Watkins is this important factor: He took great care of his large family and raised his eleven children to become leaders in society at a time when racial prejudice and discrimination against African-Americans ruled the national landscape.
My daddy accomplished this remarkable feat while serving as a principal at a junior high school for “colored students” in Parsons, Kansas during the 1940s and as a college president at universities in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas from the 1950s to the 1980s. During this period, daddy (along with my mother) provided my siblings and me with the safest and most conducive home environment for learning and our personal growth as human beings.
Granddaddy Adam Watkins owned a plumbing company in Clarksville, Tennessee during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. He also performed steam fitting and carpentry work. Adam Watkins used his skilled hands, strong work ethic, keen mind, entrepreneurial spirit, and devotion to his family to provide the household income necessary to feed, clothed, educate, and provide a loving home for his eight children (one of whom died in infancy).
In the early 1960s, Juderson Leslie started a home construction and renovation business in the Dawes community of Mobile County, Alabama. Mr. Leslie took manhood a leap further than Levi Watkins, Sr. and Adam Watkins by providing his eleven children with a wholesome environment for nurturing their personal growth and educating their brilliant minds.
This endeavor ramped up in 1964 when Juderson Leslie built an elegant home for his family on Dawes Road on a scenic, multi-acre site that was adjacent to his brother Nelson Leslie’s 10-acre horse farm. Juderson Leslie built this immaculate, five-bedroom home with his own hands. It was a labor of love for the family he adored.
The Leslie family home is just as beautiful and structurally sound today as it was when Juderson Leslie built it five decades ago. A large garden is also located on the property where Mr. Leslie grew fruits and vegetables for his family. Additionally, Mr. Leslie owned a plot of land directly across the street from his home where he raised cattle for his family’s needs and to sell to local meat buyers.
The Leslie family home was a remarkable incubator for the development of class and character for a little-known but highly successful and truly inspirational African-American family. Even though Juderson Leslie worked from sunrise to sundown to feed, clothed, educate, and provide a loving home for his eleven children, he found time to nurture his parental relationship with each one of them. All of them adore him.
The family values that Juderson and Mary Leslie instilled in their eleven children have been successfully passed down to their grandchildren, who are engineers, lawyers, corporate executives, educators, entrepreneurs, senior management government employees, insurance and finance executives, and post-doctoral interns.
I salute Mr. Juderson Leslie for being a giant among men and a wonderful father to his eleven children. The positive impact of what he accomplished on Dawes Road will live in the hearts and minds of Americans forever.
PHOTO: Mr. Juderson Leslie, with daughters Angela (left) and Tyra (right).
PHOTO: The Leslie Family Portrait (circa 1988). Juderson Leslie (second row, center) proudly stands with his wife Mary (second row, third from the left) and their eleven children. This is manhood at its best.