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Fri, 09.21.1917

Dr. Charles Watts, Physician born

Charles D. Watts

*Dr. Charles Watts was born on this date in 1917. He was a Black physician, surgeon, and activist for the poor.

From Atlanta, Georgia, Charles DeWitt Watts received a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College in 1939. He received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine in 1943. He completed his surgical residency in 1949 at the former Freedman's Hospital under Dr. Charles Drew, who was the department head.  From 1948 to 1950, Dr. Watts served as an instructor of surgery at Howard. Dr. Watts and his wife Constance Merrick Watts left Howard in 1950 and moved to her hometown of Durham.

He set up a private practice and became the director of student health at North Carolina Central University. He later was vice president and medical director for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co.  In 1965, Watts became chief of surgery at the city's 150-bed Lincoln Hospital, one of the few American hospitals that granted surgical privileges to black doctors. He also helped prepare the hospital's interns and residents for board certification. When Lincoln Hospital was slated to be closed in the 1970s, Watts led the effort to turn it into a community health center serving people regardless of their income.

In a 1986 Washington Post interview, Watts noted that in 1950, two-thirds of the certified Black surgeons in the country had been trained at Howard and influenced by Dr. Drew, who pioneered blood collection and plasma processing. "He wanted black doctors to go out and establish themselves around the country," Watts said of Drew. "He succeeded far beyond his dream. We can point them out across the country this goes to California and back again. It was a trailblazing effort that really succeeded." In 1992, his daughter, Deborah Chase Watts Hill, died.

During his career, Watts was also on the Durham Regional Hospital surgical staff and an adjunct clinical professor of surgery at Duke University Medical School.  Watts was a member of Howard's Board of Trustees for 19 years before retiring in 1993. He was then elected a trustee emeritus. In 2002, the Duke School of Medicine created the Charles Watts Travel Award, which funds student and faculty travel to study culturally specific medical issues.

North Carolina's First black surgeon, Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts, died on Jul. 12, 2004, in Durham, North Carolina addition to his wife's survivors includes two other children, Winifred A. Watts Hemphill of Atlanta and Charles D. Watts Jr. of Durham, and nine grandchildren.

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