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PHOTO ESSAY

Black Conservatives

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J. C. Watts

J.C. Watts. Courtesy of the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The election of Republican J. C. Watts to Congress in 1994 may be seen as a validation of black conservative efforts. Watts, a minister and small businessman from Oklahoma, an overwhelmingly white, conservative state, was exceedingly popular, serving four terms until he declined to seek reelection in 2002. Even though he was raised in a Democratic household, Watts became a registered Republican in 1989, a year before he was elected to a utilities regulation board for the state. According to the African American National Biography, Watts believed that the Republican platform best aligned with his "values of faith, family, hard work, small-scale entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility." Watts's political stock quickly rose after his election to Congress, and GOP leaders were keen to highlight his example. In 1997 he was tapped to provide the Republican response to President Clinton's State of the Union Address and was elected chair of the House Republican Conference from 1998 to 2002, a senior leadership position. Despite Watts's popularity, the Republican appeal to African Americans remained slight; throughout his tenure, he remained the only black GOP member in Congress.

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