Today, Feb. 6, marks the two-year anniversary of the passing of the wife of our first feature in our 2023 Black History Series and quite a legendary lady in her own right, Mrs. Ruth Perry Watkins.
In addition to the enormous impact that she made in partnership with her husband of 73 years, James Clyde “J.C.” Watkins, Ruth had numerous historic achievements as a lifelong educator, including representing the state of North Carolina as Teacher of the Year.
Born in Wendell, the local icon and consummate educator, Ruth Perry Watkins is our much-deserving spotlight for today. After spending much of her childhood in New Jersey, she returned to her home state to attend North Carolina College, which is now North Carolina Central University, and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree with a double major in History and French in 1944. She later continued her education earning a Masters in French from Columbia University.
As a new teacher at the former Rockingham Colored High School, her classroom was next door to Beaver Dam native and fellow young educator, J.C. Watkins. Between the class change conversations and a ride home after work, love blossomed between the two and resulted in their nuptials in August of 1946. After full integration occurred, she instituted French immersion at Rockingham Junior High and took her French students from Richmond Senior High to France every summer.
The following year, in 1978, after being voted Teacher of the Year at Richmond Senior High, Ruth was named the N.C. State Teacher of the Year and also served as a North Carolina Association of Educators Delegate to the world conference on the teaching profession in Jakarta, Indonesia. During her career, she was instrumental in bringing the first television into the school giving students the opportunity to take studies from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Reflective of the many times the couple overcame barriers, challenges, and obstacles, Ruth displayed her signature theme, “In spite of,” on the walls of her classroom. In spite of, she and her husband have excelled and given back to their community and beyond. The couple have been the driving force behind the preservation of the Leak Street Center, as a cultural and historical landmark by establishing the Leak Street Alumni Inc. Endowment Fund.
Ruth’s accomplishments, awards, and other noteworthy achievements are too lengthy to list, but her name precedes itself with dignity, honor, and great respect. Today we celebrate this true historic figure, the ultimate leading lady, Mrs. Ruth Watkins, for her determination, grace, innovation, and perseverance. Black history and Women’s History is Ruth Watkins, and we are so proud that she made this history in Richmond County!
Join us today in honoring the anniversary of her passing by celebrating the remarkable life of this trailblazing lady for her lifetime commitment to education, the integral role she played in overcoming barriers to integrate schools, and her dedication to bettering our community! Let’s celebrate her life by honoring her passions: civil rights, education, leadership, and public service.
Editor’s Note: Visit Richmond County is highlighting prominent local African Americans each day in February in honor of Black History Month.