My Dad’s First Principalship at the Colored School in Parsons, Kansas was Announced on May 28, 1940
Updated: Oct 18
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on October 17, 2023
He was described as "one of the most promising young Negro educators in the Middlewest." He was 30 years old; he was married to a beautiful young teacher; and, this loving couple had no children at the time.
On May 28, 1940, the local superintendent of schools in Parsons, Kansas named Levi Watkins as the new principal of Douglass Junior High Schools for Colored Students. He replaced A.E. Clark, the "grand old man" of colored education in Parsons, who retired after 40 years as principal of Douglass. Levi Watkins was my father.
Reprinted below is the front-page announcement in The Parsons (Kansas) Sun of my father's appointment as principal. This seminal event started our family’s long and fulfilling journey as leaders in the education profession and the civil rights movement, from my dad’s principalship at the Douglass school in Parsons to his presidencies at Owen Junior College (now LeMoyne-Owen College), Alabama State University, and Bishop College over the next 44 years.
Along the way, our family met quite a few men and women who were truly great school principals and college and university presidents. All of them had tremendous vision, courage, impressive brainpower, and a rock solid commitment to providing high-quality educational opportunities for African-Americans in a suffocating, oppressive, racially segregated American society.
Here is what The Parsons Sun said about this "promising young Negro educator":
A.E. Clark was also "a leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People." "Separate, but equal" was the law of the land in America during the 1940s. Yet, Clark worked extremely hard to make sure the Douglass "colored school" got as much money as the local white board of education and superintendent would give it.
In addition to working as the principal of Douglass from 1940 to 1949, Levi Watkins also served as executive director of the Parsons Community Service Fund. The organization funded activities to organize the small black population in Parsons and advance equal educational opportunities.
As you can see from the May 9, 1947, Parsons Sun article reprinted below, my father completed a "directory of Negro residents and organizations of Parsons" to aid the NAACP in mobilizing its local civil rights activities.
Today's black college and university presidents often run away from any public association with established civil rights organizations. Many of these principals and presidents have sold out to MAGA political forces that are erasing black history, opposing civil rights enforcement programs, underfunding black colleges and universities, and suppressing voting rights for blacks.
These Parsons Sun articles are important pieces of the Watkins family history in America. We pass this history down in our family, from generation to generation. Nobody will ever erase it.