Detroit Evening Report: Pastor JoAnn Watson, former Detroit City Council member, dies at 72

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JoAnn Watson

Former Detroit City Council member Rev. JoAnn Watson has died. She was 72.

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Watson, who was the first woman to serve as executive director at the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, was active in many causes in the city. She was the senior pastor at the West Side Unity Church in Detroit.

Watson was recently named to Detroit’s task force on reparations.

She told Detroit Public Television that the conditions leading up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in the city led her to a life of service.

“The girls never get stopped, but the boys of my family would get stopped frequently by police for nothing, and so we witness injustice,” Watson said to DPTV at the time.

Current Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield released the following statement honoring Watson:

The City of Detroit, the Nation, and the World lost a true Detroit and Civil Rights icon. Mother Watson, as we all so affectionately called her, was a trailblazer, stalwart and one of kind freedom fighter who loved her people and the Lord. Mother Watson, the first woman to serve as the Executive Director at the Detroit NAACP, former Detroit City Council Member and a former delegate to the 2001 United Nations World Conference on Racism, laid the blueprint for fighting on all fronts for equality and freedom. There are so many elected officials, leaders, advocates, pastors, business professionals and community leaders that are who they are because Mother Watson was who she was – present company included. I had the distinct honor of appointing Mother Watson to the Detroit’s first-ever Reparations Task Force recently, in honor of her life’s work and dedication around the issue. Further honoring her legacy, we launched the Task Force at her church and having the opportunity to appoint her, along with our subsequent conversations, are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Watson was also a voice for the people on the radio and fought for affordable water during her time in city council.

Other headlines for July 11, 2023:

WDET’s “All Things Considered” host Russ McNamara contributed to this story.

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  • Nargis Rahman
    Nargis Hakim Rahman is the Civic Reporter at 101.9 WDET. Rahman graduated from Wayne State University, where she was a part of the Journalism Institute of Media Diversity.