A new scholarship program has been established at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to honor Levi Watkins Jr. Dr. Watkins, who died in 2015, was the first African American graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1970.
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.
After graduating from the Vanderbilt medical school, Dr. Watkins 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. In 1980, Dr. Watkins was the first surgeon to implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a patient.
The new scholarship at the medical school was made possible by a gift from Annie Marie Garraway, the sister of Dr. Watkins. Dr. Garraway holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.