The Education of a Black Conservative

J.C. Watts weaves his inspirational autobiography about growing up in America’s heartland, bound for football fame, the Lord’s work, the business world, and eventually the House of Representatives. There is intangible value in this jovial and personal account of a man who rises to the top without selling his soul in the process. That’s a remarkable feat for a politician.

Watts credits his faith and family for providing him with the necessary hallmarks of stability that so many young people are lacking today. His father was his stalwart example of hard work, responsibility and perseverance. Buddy Watts never went past two days into the 7th grade, and yet despite the economic obstacles he faced, his dynamism never wavered.

His father taught him, "The only helping hand you can count on is the one at the end of your sleeve." Buddy Watts was a Democrat who voted Republican. While helping his Dad in the real estate renovation business, young J.C. earned a penny for every nail he pulled from reusable boards.

At the age of 14, J.C. watched a friend, Lucious Selmon, play college football on television and his life changed forever. Summers spent tossing hay bales turned out to be a valuable asset in his football career.

J.C. and his wife, Frankie, rediscovered their faith during those first years of marriage. In addition to school and work, he sold Amway products, vacuum cleaners and preached. While a successful college football player, Watts’ coach encouraged his study of journalism telling him that academics would take him farther than sports.

Leaving football, Watts returned to Oklahoma and became involved with the Sunnylane Baptist Church and became an ordained minister. He was also active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but it wasn’t long before he and Frankie realized that a youth minister’s salary wasn’t paying the bills very well.

Watts grew up in a Democratic family, but his values were conservative. Slowly, he was gravitating toward the Republican camp. When his wife saw a Republican campaign sign in their yard, she thought they were the target of some "Republican hooligans" and promptly tossed it into the garbage. He’d forgotten to tell her that he put it up.

When Watts announced his candidacy for Congress, his Aunt Betty worried that whites wouldn’t vote for him because he was black and blacks wouldn’t vote for him because he was Republican. Luckily, she was wrong. J.C. entered Washington in the Republican landslide of 1994.

Watts bemoans that old phrase of Jesse Jackson "I am somebody" has become "I am somebody’s victim." He says, "Over the past twenty-five years, this proud statement has been traded for a hollow rhetoric that is nothing more than a sad and shallow excuse for failure and misbehavior."

Tragic events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the tornado of ’99, and the World Trade Center disaster have made his minister’s hat "a better fit." Watts clearly relies on God’s providence for a purpose and understanding of life. Of these situations he writes, "Dear Lord, I can’t see your hand in this, but I trust your heart."

Ultimately, what happens in the family directly impacts society. Watts opines, "It is no coincidence that a society which undermines parental authority, which marginalizes religion, and which steeps its children in a violent and sexually obsessed culture produces children who are unruly, undisciplined, nihilistic and in some cases infatuated with murder and quite prepared to act on these infatuations."

As the policies of segregation gave way to integration, J.C. Watts followed his dreams in the footsteps of Christian kindness so nobly demonstrated by his father and uncle. While he put up with more than his share of garbage from small-minded people, black and white, some lessons are profound.

At his uncle’s funeral, one of the speakers was a former KKK grand wizard. Watts’ Uncle Wade debated the man’s arguments during a radio show without returning hostile fire and the two later became close friends.

Good will always be stronger than evil; perseverance is its own reward.

What Color is a Conservative? My Life and My Politics
By J.C. Watts, Jr. (with Chriss Winston)
$24.95, 256 pp.