By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Oklahoma residents got to know J.C. Watts in the football arena, the world got to know him in the political arena and now OU students will get a chance to learn about Watts and his political rise during his lecture Monday, Jan. 17, at noon at Meadow Brook Theatre.
As a star quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, Watts led his team to consecutive conference championships and Orange Bowl victories, even being named the bowl’s most valuable player in 1980 and 1981. After his success in college and playing professional football in Canada, Watts made a name for himself speaking at civic and Christian events. He is an ordained Baptist minister and also headed a youth activities program at a large Baptist church.
At that time, Watts decided he wanted to do something with his notoriety, so he turned his attention to politics.
Watts grew up in the poor neighborhood of Eufaula, Okla., in a family of conservative Democrats and even was a registered Democrat, but after covering a political debate as a journalism student, he found he agreed more with the Republican position and thought the Democrats had taken African-Americans for granted, not earning their support or rewarding their loyalty to the party.
The Republicans welcomed Watts and embraced his idea of running for political office. There were many prominent blacks in the Democratic Party, but for the Republicans, Watts’ popularity was unique.
His popularity in the state of Oklahoma helped him win a seat in the House of Representatives in 1994, the first time a black Republican from a southern state won a seat in Congress since the Reconstruction. He was reelected to the seat in 1996.
As a congressman, Watts served as chair of the House Republican Conference, chair of the House Republican Conference and honorary co-chair of the Republican National Convention in 2000.
While Watts was serving as chair of the House Republican Conference, OU political science professor David Dulio had the opportunity to serve as a fellow in his leadership office.
Dulio said his role in the leadership office was to work on the message conveyed by the House Republicans on legislation. He worked to help coordinate the message and how it would be presented on the House floor.
Dulio credits his fellowship to giving him insight on the way the House operates, which enhances his teaching. He said it was Watts and his administrators that gave him the opportunity to observe and participate in different venues and it allowed him access to top decision makers.
According to Dulio, it is fitting for Watts to speak on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because he wanted his work to support civil rights. Upon his retirement, Watts received a letter from Rosa Parks thanking him for his work, and Dulio said Watts was proud his work was validated by a civil rights leader like Parks.
During his service in Washington, Watts was involved in restoring low-income neighborhoods. He has co-sponsored the American Community Renewal Act recommending enterprise zones and has been adamant that if welfare is dismantled, it must be replaced with something constructive.
Watts retired from the House after serving four terms, but he is the chairman of the GOPAC, a training organization for Republican political candidates. He is a political commentator for various media outlets. Watts also is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, which provides services in communication, business and public affairs and is co-chair of the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa. He also has authored a book, entitled “What Color is a Conservative?” which details his personal and political experiences.
Sponsored by the Student Life Lecture Board, Watts' lecture is the featured program during OU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. Admission to the lecture is free, but tickets are required and may be picked up at the Center for Student Activities Service Window located at 49 Oakland Center.