Lottie Watkins, 98: Atlanta business groundbreaker was longtime leader

Lottie Watkins could be called many things, but never a quitter.

In almost a century of living, Watkins was a community activist, civil rights advocate, legislator and a first-of-a-kind Atlanta businesswoman.

“Whatever I put my hands on I saw to completion,” she said in 2012.

She worked until she was 82 and lived, she said, by the motto: “All that you give will come back to you.”

Lottie H. Watkins, spirited community and political activist and the first African-American woman in Atlanta to be a licensed real estate broker, died Feb. 20. She was 98.

A funeral service was held Monday, with burial in Westview Cemetery.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Lottie Watkins

Watkins was born June 4, 1918 in Atlanta to the late Eddie and Susan (Wilson) Heywood.

She graduated with honors from Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1935 and went to Reid’s School of Business before taking a job as a secretary at Alexander-Calloway Realty Co.

She left there for a better job as a teller-clerk with Mutual Federal Savings & Loan. Then in 1960, taking a leap of faith, Watkins started her own business, Lottie Watkins Enterprises, earning the distinction of being the first African-American woman in Atlanta to be a licensed real estate broker.

Lottie Watkins Enterprises opened on Hunter Street, but later moved to a building that Watkins bought on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard not only for her company but also to provide rental space to other minority businesses.

Lottie Watkins Enterprises operated for more than 55 years as a full-service real estate and property management company.

Watkins retired at 82, and her daughter, Joyce, ran the company until 2009, her granddaughter, Kelli Heywood Bacote, said.

Watkins was active in political campaigns for decades and was an avid supporter of the Democratic Party and Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Politicians in Atlanta often sought her advice, and she backed many, including former Atlanta mayors Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young and Bill Campbell, civil rights leader Julian Bond and state Sen. Vincent Fort, her family said.

At her passing, her family received a handwritten sympathy note from former President Carter.

Fort said Watkins could be called a “renaissance woman.” She took care of her business, family and civic obligations, he said.

“She had a great reputation as a successful businesswoman and community leader,” Fort said.

Watkins was involved in the push for the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and in the civil rights movement.

In 1977, she decided to try her hand at politics, winning a special election for a seat in the Georgia General Assembly. She served in the Georgia House of Representatives until 1980, records of the House Clerk’s Office show.

Her work through the years earned her praise, recognition and awards. The Atlanta Voice newspaper honored Watkins in 2006 as one of “40 Distinct Voices” in Atlanta. Two years later, she was inducted into the Atlanta Business League Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal presented her with the state’s annual “Leadership, Dedication and Courage in Civil Rights” award.

“Many people were so generous to me, and their constant support motivated me to strive to make a name for myself,” she told granddaughter Kelli in 2012.

Daughter Judy Watkins Barnett said her mother was “something else.”

“She could make you feel like a Master of the Universe and also make you feel like ‘you’ve got some work to do honey,’ ” Barnett said. “Either way, you were a better person for it.”

Watkins’ “wisdom and courageous spirit” is what granddaughter Kelli says she’ll most remember. Watkins guided her family “by her examples of faith, love, hope and dreams,” she said.

Tap, as the family called her, was “resilient and stood by her beliefs and convictions,” her granddaughter said. “She always believed the possibilities for success were limitless.”

Watkins’ survivors include: daughters Joyce Bacote and Judy Watkins Barnett; and grandchildren Samuel Bacote III, S. Joi Bacote Jackson, Kelli Heywood Bacote and Justin Barnett.

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