1924 – 1980
Bruce R. Watkins was an entrepreneur, public official, and community leader. Born Bruce Riley in Parkville, Missouri, Watkins was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Theron B. Watkins, co-founder of Watkins Brothers Funeral Home. During World War II, he served with the Tuskegee Airmen, the renowned African American combat aviators. After the war, Watkins joined the family business, where he played an integral role for 30 years.
In 1966, Watkins became the first African American elected to the City Council, where he served two terms. He also was twice elected Jackson County circuit clerk and ran for mayor of Kansas City in 1979. His legacy is memorialized by Bruce R. Watkins Drive and Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, as well as the Spirit of Freedom Fountain that celebrates the contributions of Kansas City’s African American community.