The Honorable Diane E. Watson

Inspirational Leader

Diane Edith Watson was born on November 12, 1933, in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of William Allen Louis Watson, a Los Angeles police officer, and Dorothy Elizabeth O’Neal Watson, a postal worker. After graduating from Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, Watson received her associate degree from Los Angeles City College in 1954 and a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1956. Watson later earned a master’s degree in school psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1967, and a Ph.D. in education administration from Claremont College in 1986. Watson worked as a teacher and school psychologist in the Los Angeles public schools, taught abroad in France and Japan, lectured at California State University campuses in Long Beach and Los Angeles, and worked in the California department of education.

In 1975, Watson won election to the Los Angeles board of education and served until 1978. According to the Los Angeles Times, Watson became only the second Black woman to be elected to the school board. On the board, Watson worked to desegregate the city’s public schools.

She went on to win a spot in the California state senate in 1978, becoming the first African-American woman to serve in that chamber. “I think I bring another dimension being a black female,” she said. “But I don’t want to be judged here as a black or a woman but as a senator.” During her two-decade career in the state senate, she chaired the health and human services committee where she worked to provide relief for Californians living in poverty and sought to rebuild central Los Angeles after the violence and property destruction that followed the 1992 acquittal of White police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a Black man. In 1992, Watson ran for the Los Angeles county board of supervisors but lost to former California Representative Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in a close race. After state term limits forced Watson out of the California senate, President William J. Clinton nominated her as U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia in 1998.

Congresswoman Watson

In December 2000, Representative Julian C. Dixon of California, Watson’s friend and former high school classmate, died suddenly of a heart attack. A senior member on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Dixon had just won re-election to a twelfth term in Congress. Urged by colleagues to run, Watson declared her candidacy for the vacant seat in January 2001. Watson campaigned on her political experience, community activism, and local roots in the predominantly African-American and Hispanic district, which included West Los Angeles and Culver City. Watson earned a 33 percent plurality in the primary to defeat 10 opponents, including a state senator and a city councilman. In the June 5, 2001, special election, Watson easily carried the Democratic district with 75 percent of the vote against Republican businesswoman Noel Irwin Hentschel. In her four re-elections, Watson won with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Watson took her seat in the House on June 7, 2001. “I never dreamed that this walk would direct me in the footsteps of my dear friend, the late esteemed Julian Dixon,” she said.

As a former ambassador, she took a keen interest in American foreign policy, particularly relating to issues of racism and health care in the developing world. In the summer of 2001, Watson attended the United Nations Conference on Racism, Xenophobia, and Other Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. She later urged the United States to host its own conference on racism and called for reforms to American education, justice, and health care systems as possible means for reparations for the long and painful legacy of American slavery. Watson also supported the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, noting that incidents of violence against people of Middle Eastern and North African descent, which had risen since the 2001 terrorist attacks, were “the tip of a proverbial iceberg.”

Article by: History House

Political Identity and Race Consciousness

Political Mentors: Julian Dixon and Kenny Hahn

The Advocate

The year 1978 marked her election to the California State Senate where she as chosen to chair, from 1981 to 1998, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. She also served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. During her tenure in the California State Senate, Congresswoman Watson became a statewide and national advocate for health care, consumer protection, women, and children. In 1993, she authored the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program Act, which led to pioneering research into the causes of birth defects, and the Residential Care Facilities Act, to ensure that senior citizens receive quality care in nursing and assisted living homes.

Ambassador Watson

In 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton appointed Congresswoman Watson to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia. Watson served in this capacity until 2001 when she returned to California to run for Congress in a special election held on June 5, 2001, after the death of Congressman Julian Dixon. She was reelected on November 5, 2002 to a full two-year term and has served in each succeeding Congress.

– Article: nternational Black Women’s Public Policy