A historical marker honoring the late Lottie Watkins will be erected early next year outside her namesake office building at 1065 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. (Photo Courtesy Atlanta Preservation Center.)

By John Ruch

The late Lottie Watkins, a Georgia state representative and pioneering African American real estate broker, will be honored with a City historical marker outside her namesake building in the West End.

Approved by the Atlanta City Council on Aug. 15, the marker is expected to be installed early next year at the Lottie Watkins Building at 1065 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.

Lottie Watkins as pictured during a 2006 oral history interview with TheHistoryMakers. (Photo from TheHistoryMakers.)

Before her death in 2017 at age 98, Watkins was a longtime business and political leader. Post 1 At-Large City Councilmember Michael Julian Bond, the sponsor of the marker legislation, was among her family friends and political allies. “This is a labor of love, literally,” he said of the marker. “Lottie Watkins knew me when I was a twinkle in my parents’ eye.”

Born in 1918, Watkins was the daughter of well-known blues and jazz musician Eddie Heywood Sr. (Her brother, Eddie Jr., also became a famed jazz bandleader.) In 1960, she started her own business, Lottie Watkins Enterprises, and reputedly was Atlanta’s first African American woman to be a licensed real estate broker.

She bought the West End building, which dates to 1954, and operated her business there for over 55 years. Her family still owns it.

She was active in the Civil Rights movement, including organizing around the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and support for the Atlanta Student Movement, a protest group whose leaders included Bond’s father Julian.

Watkins served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1977 to 1980. She is buried in Westview Cemetery.

An oral history interview with Watkins is available on the website of the African American history organization TheHistoryMakers.

“I thought she was just the sweetest lady,” Councilmember Bond recalled.  “…When I first got into politics, she became a very shrewd advisor for me. I gained a whole new level of respect for her once I got to know her in the political sense, in the political world.”

Bond is an advocate for historical markers, with several others in the planning stages, including for the Atlanta Student Movement and the community of Lightning, which was displaced by the Georgia World Congress Center. He also has proposed an Atlanta Historical Commission to erect such markers and create an app that visitors could use for more information about the historical sites and people.

Bond said a council-approved commission was formed about a decade ago to consider how to honor Watkins, but that after the long delay, he decided to move ahead with the marker legislation.

The marker for Watkins will cost about $2,000, Bond said, and will be paid for by the City.