Levi Watkins Jr., the civil rights pioneer and physician who, in 1980, was the first doctor to implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a patient, died on April 14 at Johns Hopkins University hospital. He was 69 years old.
Dr. Watkins was the first African American graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He was associated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for 43 years, first as an intern and then as a faculty member until his retirement in 2013.
A native of Parsons, Kansas, Watkins moved to Alabama where his father was president of historically Black Alabama State University. He attended the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor. Watkins was the valedictorian of his class at the Alabama State Laboratory High School and then graduated from Tennessee State University in Nashville, where he was active in the civil rights movement. He entered the medical school at Vanderbilt in 1966.