America's First Black
by Kim A. Lawton
REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN J.C. Watts waited near the microphone while
Jerry Falwell made his introduction. "Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce
you to the man who just may be the first African American president of
the United States," Falwell gushed. The audience of more than 400 pastors
attending a public policy seminar in Washington, D.C., earlier last year
responded with a thunderous standing ovation.
It's a sound Watts hears often as he travels around the country. He
hears it so often, in fact, that he has a stock response to questions about
his political ambitions: "I've never needed to have anything other than
the title of "Dad" in front of my name to tell me who I am and what I should
stand for," Watts said, echoing a statement he also expressed at the 1996
Republican National Convention.
The only black Republican in Congress this session, Watts has garnered
a large share of the national spotlight since his arrival on Capitol Hill
after the 1994 election. Celebrity status is nothing new for this football
star turned pastor turned politician, but the stakes have become higher
as speculation turns to higher political office.
For now, Watts, a committed Christian, says he's content to use the"bully
pulpit"of his congressional seat to champion "spiritual, moral and economic
renewal." He has become an outspoken advocate for a national return
to strong moral character and traditional values.
On the Other Side of the Tracks Julius Caesar Watts Jr., better known
as "J.C.," says he learned the importance of values and character early
on. The fifth of six children, Watts speaks often of his childhood in Eufaula,
Oklahoma, where his parents emphasized hard work, sacrifice, family and
belief in God. He talks with obvious pride about his father, who held down
several jobs at a time and preached on Sundays.
"I got my values growing up in a poor black neighborhood on the east
side of the tracks where money was scarce but dreams were plentiful and
love was all around," Watts told the nation in his State of the Union response
in February. "I got my values from a strong family, strong church and strong
Those values, he says, would shape both his faith and his politics.
In high school, Watts discovered he had a knack for sports. That knack
took him to the University of Oklahoma, where he became a President, continued
from page 1 star quarterback for the Sooners. Watts, a journalism major,
led the Sooners to consecutive Big Eight championships and Orange Bowl
After graduation, Watts was drafted as a running back for the New York
Jets, but he chose to play as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League,
where he stayed for about six years.
Then one day in December 1986, Watts says he "felt the call upon my
life" to leave football. He came home and told his wife, Frankie, he had
played his last professional football game. She asked him what he was going
to do next. "I said , I don't know. I just think the Lord is speaking to
my heart to move on," Watts recalled.
The next step soon possible. "It seemed like an impossibility when
I started," said Rev. Vidal, candidly as we sat talking in the living room
of his Cleveland home, where he lives with his wife and their three sons.
He explained with genuine enthusiasm how his ministry now covers sixty-three
prisons in seven states (nineteen in Ohio). But he said it was not always
like that. In the beginning, doors seemed to close everywhere until the
sovereign hand of God pushed them open and guided him through.