Friday, February 6, 2015

Fredrick Watkins: First African American Doctor in Cabarrus


Dr. Fredrick Watkins, date unknown.
Photo courtesy Bernard Davis, Jr./ Harold Watkins, Sr.
Cabarrus County has a rich history of African American achievement. It is hard to imagine that a child of color born into a slave culture would have the fortitude to break through ethnic barriers and rise to become a respected doctor and a pillar of the community; but that is just what Fredrick Watkins did. Dr. Watkins was the first African American doctor in Concord, working as a general practitioner from about 1900 until his death in 1925.

Fredrick Henry Watkins was born on April 18, 1860 in Rockingham, North Carolina. He eventually moved to Concord and married Mary Lytle, a graduate of Barber-Scotia College Seminary and a fifth-grade teacher at the former Logan High School. Dr. Watkins graduated from Shaw University Medical School in Raleigh in 1906.

Fredrick and Mary had eight children. They lived on Crowell Street, above Barber-Scotia College Infirmary, and eventually moved to 211 Tournament Drive, where the home still exists. Dr. Watkins moved his practice to this home after maintaining offices in downtown Concord and on Corbin Street.

Dr. Watkins regularly cared for more than 50 white and black patients in the area. In an Independent Tribune interview dated June 29, 2003, Watkin's son Harold said that his father did face resentment from some members of the community,"My father said things in a matter-of-fact way. He talked to everybody the same way. Some people resented that and wanted him to be more subservient." Harold said that seeing his father carry out his work with dignity inspired him and other young people.

Harold further described his father as a person who was devoted to his patients and respected by his colleagues. Dr. Watkins also was a strict father, but devoted to his children. Sadly, Harold was still a child when his father died on April 15, 1925, just a few days before his 65th birthday.

Fredrick and Mary Watkins are buried at Old Campground Cemetery, the largest and oldest privately owned cemetery in Cabarrus County, and local African American history site. They are in good company as it also is the final resting place of other such notables as entrepreneur and mill owner Warren C. Coleman and educator Rev. Frank T. Logan.

Dr. Watkins is profiled in the books Portraits of the African-American Experience in Concord-Cabarrus, North Carolina 1860-2008, by Bernard Davis, Jr. and Legendary Locals of Concord, by Michael Eury. Both are available through the Cabarrus County Libraries.

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