The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Craig Watkins

Lawyer Craig Watkins was born on November 16, 1967 in Dallas, Texas to Richard Watkins and Paula Watkins. Watkins graduated from David W. Carter High School in Dallas, Texas in 1986. He earned his B.A. degree in political science from Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas in 1990 and received his J.D. degree from the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth, Texas in 1994.

Watkins began his legal career working in the Dallas city attorney and public defender’s office. He subsequently left the City of Dallas office and formed his private practice, Craig Watkins Attorney at Law, PLLC, where he worked mainly as a licensed bail bondsman. Although he campaigned and lost a 2002 election for district attorney, Watkins won the election in 2006 and became the first African American district attorney elected in the State of Texas. He served as district attorney from 2007 until 2015, during which time he was credited with securing a 99.4% conviction rate with a focus on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse. Watkins also worked to resolve cases of wrongful conviction through the use of DNA testing and the review of evidence illegally withheld from defense attorneys. Watkins ran for re-election as district attorney in 2014, but was defeated by former Judge Susan Hawk.

As district attorney, Watkins attracted state and national recognition for his work. He was featured in Texas Monthly, Jet, and Ebony magazines in 2007. In 2008, Watkins was named Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News. During the same year, he was featured on an episode of 60 Minutes. Watkins also appeared on PBS NewsHour in a live interview with journalist Ray Suarez for his office’s 2011 exoneration of Cornelies Dupree, who was previously convicted of armed robbery in Texas.

Watkins’ involvement in the community included Friendship-West Baptist Church, Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated, the Circle 10 Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Prairie View A&M Alumni Association.

Watkins and his wife, Tanya, have three children: Chad, Cale, and Taryn.

Craig Watkins was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 14, 2017.

Accession Number

A2017.166

Sex

Male

Interview Date

09/14/2017

Last Name

Watkins

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

David W. Carter High School

Adelle Turner Elementary School

Prairie View A&M University

Texas A&M University School of Law

William Hawley Atwell Law Academy

First Name

Craig

Birth City, State, Country

Dallas

HM ID

WAT18

Favorite Season

Thanksgiving, Christmas

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/16/1967

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Dallas

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Mexican Food

Short Description

Lawyer Craig Watkins (1967 - ) was the first African American District Attorney elected in the state of Texas.

Employment

Dallas County Public Defender's Office

Dallas County District Attorney's Office

Craig Watkins Law Firm, PLLC

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:1628,24:2198,57:3908,178:24893,380:25972,410:26470,417:28794,454:31450,596:32612,614:33110,621:34438,639:35019,647:40586,678:41476,716:47706,848:48240,855:51266,897:52245,909:54114,939:54470,944:60288,1008:61536,1025:62016,1031:63744,1050:65472,1082:66240,1099:68448,1146:77937,1241:80067,1276:80351,1281:80919,1290:81629,1301:82481,1313:82765,1320:85889,1406:86528,1416:88729,1466:89368,1477:90930,1507:91498,1516:92705,1545:93770,1570:98276,1584:98620,1589:100684,1625:115640,1922:116836,1944:117848,1955:122172,2018:122632,2023:123184,2031:125116,2060:125944,2096:149188,2421:149698,2427:155410,2519:156430,2531:161220,2557$174,0:406,5:13690,155:16810,203:31795,339:42272,457:43640,482:44096,490:51746,610:54026,652:54406,658:54710,667:55394,677:56230,692:57218,728:62440,820:62840,831:63160,836:66280,884:74760,1042:78766,1047:80572,1071:80916,1076:81518,1085:82206,1090:83496,1117:84356,1128:84786,1134:86592,1170:87022,1177:93107,1212:97157,1259:97643,1267:100350,1272:101868,1303:102330,1312:104442,1362:117432,1563:118576,1573:119280,1583:127006,1668:136438,1871:137014,1880:143769,1966:144847,1985:145617,1996:149330,2051
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Craig Watkins' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Craig Watkins lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Craig Watkins talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Craig Watkins describes his motivation to pursue a career in law

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Craig Watkins talks about his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Craig Watkins describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Craig Watkins talks about his father's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Craig Watkins talks about his parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Craig Watkins describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Craig Watkins describes his community in Dallas, Texas, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Craig Watkins describes his community in Dallas, Texas, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Craig Watkins remembers his early interest in politics

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Craig Watkins describes his early experiences of religion

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Craig Watkins talks about his involvement on the swim team

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Craig Watkins talks about his grades in high school and college

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Craig Watkins describes his organizational involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Craig Watkins talks about reconnecting with his elementary school teacher

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Craig Watkins recalls his decision to attend Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Craig Watkins talks about his education in African American history

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Craig Watkins describes the history of black political leadership in Dallas, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Craig Watkins remembers the influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Craig Watkins talks about his experiences of discriminatory policing in Dallas, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Craig Watkins remembers his employment prospects after college

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Craig Watkins remembers applying to law school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Craig Watkins recalls his first year at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Craig Watkins describes his interest in constitutional law

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Craig Watkins talks about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Craig Watkins talks about the communication skills of Mayor Ron Kirk

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Craig Watkins recalls his experiences in the Dallas County Public Defender's Office

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Craig Watkins talks about the changes to the justice system in Dallas, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Craig Watkins remembers starting his private practice in Dallas, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Craig Watkins recalls his decision to run for district attorney of Dallas County, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Craig Watkins remembers the Democratic Party sweep in Dallas County, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Craig Watkins describes the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Craig Watkins talks about the unreliability of eyewitness identification

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Craig Watkins talks about criminal justice reform, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Craig Watkins talks about criminal justice reform, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Craig Watkins describes the use of DNA evidence in Dallas County, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Craig Watkins recalls his media exposure as district attorney of Dallas County, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Craig Watkins talks about exonerating thirty-eight inmates in Dallas County, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Craig Watkins recalls the criticism he faced as district attorney of Dallas County, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Craig Watkins talks about his reelection campaign in 2014

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Craig Watkins talks about his campaign considerations

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Craig Watkins reflects upon the success of the Conviction Integrity Unit

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Craig Watkins talks about his private law practice in Dallas, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Craig Watkins reflects upon the current political climate in the State of Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Craig Watkins reflects upon his career, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Craig Watkins describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Craig Watkins reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Craig Watkins describes his opposition to the death penalty

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Craig Watkins reflects upon his career, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Craig Watkins talks about his family

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Craig Watkins shares his advice to aspiring black law professionals

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Craig Watkins describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

12$5

DATitle
Craig Watkins remembers his early interest in politics
Craig Watkins describes the use of DNA evidence in Dallas County, Texas
Transcript
So where, where did you start school--I mean?$$I started school at Adelle Turner, A-D-E-L-L-E, Turner [Adelle Turner Elementary School, Dallas, Texas].$$Okay, this is elementary school, right?$$Yes; then I went on to, I went on to Atwell--W.H. Atwell [William Hawley Atwell Middle School; William Hawley Atwell Law Academy, Dallas, Texas].$$Is this a middle school or junior high school?$$Yes, middle school.$$Middle school, okay.$$Then I went on to the health magnet [School of Health Professions at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, Dallas, Texas] because I had in my mind that I wanted to be a doctor. It was a magnet school but then I quickly decided no, this is not what I want to do; and then I went to Carter High School--David W. Carter High School [Dallas, Texas].$$Okay. Now what were you interested in, in grade school?$$You know I was always interested in law. In--surprisingly, one individual, although he was not a lawyer, that impressed me was Ronald Reagan [President Ronald Wilson Reagan] because he was a great communicator. And going into law, I saw that most people in [U.S.] Congress, most people in the [U.S.] Senate are lawyers; and so once I started figuring out where I wanted to be in life, it was leading me to politics. And so that's how I got into politics eventually after I had been a successful lawyer for some time.$$Now was your father [Richard Watkins] involved in a political organization in Dallas [Texas] at all?$$No but my family was always involved in politics. They had their finger on the pulse of what was going on in the country. But they were not involved in politics--none whatsoever. I don't think they had the stomach for it.$$Okay. Now it's kind of surprising your admiration for Ronald Reagan. Because there weren't--in the '80s [1980s] there weren't very many black people that admitted such an admiration, but (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) No. No I mean but that's why I say it's surprising because I saw him, and I really studied him and I saw that you know being a politician is not just being smart and having a law degree. You have to be able to communicate with individuals, and he was great at that. That's why I looked at him--you know Reagan and Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] they were both good at that. Now Clinton was a Rhodes scholar [Rhodes Scholarship] so he had the mental capacity to be the president, and he was a great communicator; and so you know those are the two individuals that you know I saw. And I was thinking to myself wow, I can do that.$Your term as a, as a prosecutor from twen- 2007 to 2015, that's eight years, right?$$Yes.$$I mean is--you have a lot of--I mean you start gaining national support. I mean Eclipse Magazine named you as a Super Lawyer. You won the NAACP Texas Hero Award in 2007, so people--I mean Texas Monthly did a feature on you; you're featured on '60 Minutes.' So, well tell us about a case where the DNA evidence or how that really works--just walk us through a case where the DNA was used.$$Okay so this is how we did it. What we would do is, we have a lab here in Dallas [Texas] and we would go and--once the case is brought to our attention, we had a lot of cases from the Innocence Project in New York [New York], got a lot of cases from the public defender's office [Dallas County Public Defender's Office], we got a lot of cases just from individuals writing us a letter to say, can you look at this case. So what we do if there was DNA then we would go get that DNA, but that's not the be all and end all. We would actually reinvestigate the case from start to finish to make sure you know that we were right when we exonerated these individuals. Think about it: if we made a mistake on exonerations, they will never happen again. So an exoneration took at least a year before we got to that point to where we were ready to exonerate someone; and that's where people get it confused, they think that it should be quick--there's DNA, go test it. No. We reinvestigate the case, and then we try to find out who actually the case--committed the crime; and we did that in a couple of cases. There was one guy who was called the North Dallas rapist, and the individual that was in prison didn't do it. So we actually went and found this man who did it and we prosecuted him. Because the law in Texas, you would think about the statute of limitations but if there is DNA evidence that is stored and saved, the statute doesn't run. So we were able to go back twenty years and put on a successful prosecution of the individual that committed this case.