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By Herb Boyd —

The Rev. Dr. JoAnn Watson’s legend reached well beyond the precincts of Detroit, where she was a formidable political leader of the City Council. In the vast realm of Black liberation, self-determination, and the reparations movement, she was a remarkable clear-eyed visionary, and the notice of her death this week also brings in its wake a storehouse of fond memories. Rev. Watson was 72 and the cause of death was not published.

A flood of condolences and encomiums are sure to come, and quite deservedly for a woman who strode passionately in the political, activist, and religious sectors of our society. She recounted many of these experiences in the foreword of the paperback version of Black Detroit, a book she praised that captured her own history in the city, “particularly when the Young administration was running the city and when I was a City Councilmember.”

She dashed off the introduction with her usual speed and flair, giving the book additional heft and insight. This was the JoAnn that resonated first for me, bringing back those moments when we traveled to Durban, South Africa in 2001 as delegates to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism. I can still see her standing with Reparations Ray at the Million Man March in 1995. And on many occasions, I was a guest on her radio and television show Wake Up Detroit or in her classroom where she was a professor at Wayne County Community College. There was even a memorable encounter with her at the West Side Unity Church where she was an associate pastor.

A cursory glance at her impressive resume denotes her unwavering commitment to reparations, often sharing the podiums and pulpits with the late Rep. John Conyers and Dr. Ron Daniels of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century. Her ideological prowess touched on several prominent formations, including the Republic of New Afrika, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. She had a way of lending a personal touch to the differences between these entities, thoughtfully finding a way for mutual accord in their struggle for total liberation.

Already the people she represented and pastored are offering their reflections on a life well-lived. “Her dedication to the betterment of the city and her fearlessness in challenging unjust systems have left a lasting impression,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. “Her legacy serves as an inspiration for others to continue the important work she started. May JoAnn Watson’s memory be cherished, and may her contributions continue to resonate within the community she served.”

My good friend and longtime associate Danny Aldridge recalled his first days with JoAnn when she was a student at Central High School, saying, “She was a very perceptive and actively engaged student and I wasn’t surprised later when she worked with my aunt Dorothy Height and the National Council of Negro Women.”

Yes, there will be tears for JoAnn, but those who came to know her unflinching resolve to bring about change in Detroit and other communities in need of comfort will remember all those joyful moments when her powerful spirit lifted the downtrodden. May she rest in peace and power.

Herb Boyd

Herb Boyd is an American journalist, educator, author, and activist. His articles appear regularly in the New York Amsterdam News. He teaches black studies at the City College of New York and the College of New Rochelle.