Diane Watson
Congresswoman Diane Watson making a point

Diane Watson
Watson passing the torch to Bass

Diane Watson
  The Honorable Diane E. Watson


*** Legends ***

Diane E. Watson

LA School Board Member, State Senator, Ambassador, Congresswoman and educator


       In announcing the Honorable Diane E. Watson as the recipient of the 2011 Thurgood Marshall Award that was given to her by the Bunche Center at UCLA, Dr. Darnell M. Hunt, the center’s director wrote in the Bunche Review, “…no single issue consumed more of our collective energy during the year than the continuing crisis African Americans face in education.  It was this issue that motivated the Center to select the Honorable Diane Watson as our 2011 Thurgood Marshall lecturer…” 

       Though U.S. Congresswoman Watson (retired) is well known through the many elected and appointed offices that she has held over the last 40 years, education is always been one of her priorities. For example, as a representative in 2008, Watson played a key role in securing $2.5 million in grants for job training in the entertainment industry trades at West Los Angeles College (WLAC), located in her district.

Her commitment to education was also illustrated when she authored HR 2553, “the Public Diplomacy Resource Centers Act of 2007,” that was designed to provide diplomats abroad with additional tools to show the world the best of American society – a need Watson must have learned about as a U.S. Ambassador.

A native of Los Angeles, Watson was educated at Dorsey High School, Los Angeles City College and the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned her B.A. in Education (1956) and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.  Watson also earned an M.S. from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in School Psychology (1967) and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Claremont Graduate University in 1987. She also attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Watson started her career with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as an elementary schoolteacher, then an assistant principal and a school psychologist. She has lectured at California State University, Long Beach and CSULA, and was a health occupation specialist with the California Department of Education‘s Bureau of Industrial Education.  Her background as an educator allowed her to hold teaching positions in the U.S. Armed Forces School in Okinawa, Japan and France.  In addition, Watson also served as an associated professor at CSULA. 

She was first elected as a member of the LAUSD school board (1975 to 1978) where she fought to desegregate the L.A. public schools.  Then she served as a member of the California Senate from 1978 to 1998, (the first Black woman to serve in the state Senate).  As chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Watson gained a reputation as an advocate for health care for the poor and children before she was “termed out.”  Back in 1988, when the U.S. government proposed the addition of the category of “bi-racial” or “multiracial” to official documents and statistics, some African American organizations and African American leaders such as Watson and the late Representative Augustus Hawkins were particularly vocal in their rejection and opposition of the category. They were concerned about massive defection from the African American self-designation.

In 1992, Watson ran for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. After a hard-fought campaign that sometimes turned negative, she narrowly lost to former Supervisor Yvonne Burke.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed her as the U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia where she served from 1999 to 2000, before returning to the U.S. to run in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Congressman Julian C. Dixon. She was elected to the U.S. Congress and has served from 2001 to 2011. She has been overwhelmingly re-elected four times, but retired after the end of the 111th Congress.  Watson served as the U.S. representative for California’s 33rd congressional district – located entirely in Los Angeles County and included much of Central Los Angeles – where she has been a lifelong resident and a member of the Democratic Party.

Sources say that Watson brought an array of experience and a commitment to excellence in managing the affairs of her constituents, and foreign affairs.  Her background as an educator and a former ambassador added to her resume as a “states-woman.”  In the 110th Congress in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Watson helped to redeem the status and prestige that the United States had lost around the world in recent years.   She stated, “While U.S. foreign policy clearly is a key factor in how we are viewed abroad, an important part of regaining our rightful leadership role is to find more effective ways to let the world know who was are as Americans and what we stand for.”

Her work committee assignments included the Foreign Affairs Committee; the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus; the Congressional Korea Caucus; and the U.S.-UK Caucus.  She had been a strong voice for military withdrawal from Iraq and expanding welfare coverage. 

While in Congress, she also opposed consolidation among the giant media conglomerates that may have resulted in media monopolies or unfair competition in the marketplace.; supported expanding welfare coverage; opposed then President George W. Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security, and the Bush tax cuts, saying they were unaffordable.  She was one of the 31 members of the House who voted not to count the electoral votes from Ohio in the U.S. presidential election, 2004.

Not only did Watson work on behalf of her constituents, she also took on issues of concern in other areas.  On the issue of Cherokee Freedmen membership in the Cherokee tribe, Watson noted that 20,000 Cherokee lived in California. She opposed the Cherokee Nation‘s March 2007 vote to amend its constitution to limit membership to only those descendants with at least one Indian ancestor on the Dawes Roll.

As a congresswoman, she traveled to the African continent to forge closer ties with both continents and to increase the awareness of American values through film and mass media communication.  And to Haiti to assist the people there after a horrific earthquake devastated its capital resulting in mass human death and destruction.

         Watson urged President Barack Obama signed H.R. 5450 to rename the Crenshaw Post Office in honor of Los Angeles’ first Black mayor, the “Tom Bradley Post Office.”   At that time, she said, “I am pleased that the President signed this bill to rename the Crenshaw Post Office in honor of a person who dedicated his life to public service. The Tom Bradley Post Office will serve as a testament to his unprecedented years of dedication to the city of Los Angeles.”

When she decided to retire, Watson spoke to the Sentinel about her plans saying, “I have been in elected office for over 30 years and I have decided this is the right time to retire.  So I’ll be in the Congress until the end of the year and at that point, I’ll think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.” And about for her future plans, she continued, “Though I’m retiring, I’m always open to serve my president and my country.”

To her constituents at the Year End Legislative Review Event, she stated: “It is my pleasure to thank all my constituents for giving me the opportunity to represent the 33rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives over the past ten years.  I thank you for the trust you have placed in me for these many years as your voice in the United States Congress,” said Watson.

President Obama issued the following statement on her retirement: “Diane Watson has spent her life fighting for families in Los Angeles, especially those who too often didn’t have a voice.  Diane blazed a historic trail from the L.A. public schools to the United States Congress where she continued to work to improve health care, education and opportunities for countless Americans.  While we will miss her distinguished voice in Congress, Michelle and I extend our thanks to Diane for her service and our best wishes to her and her family for the future.”
          While at an event, former Congresswoman Diane Watson was introducing her then apparent successor to the 33rd congressional district, Karen Bass – who is now Congresswoman Bass – described how she saw in Bass, years ago, the kind of person who she would trust to replace her in Congress.  She also mentioned that newly-elected Assembly-member Holly Mitchell would be replacing Bass and in describing the transition from herself to Bass and from Bass to Mitchell, Watson referred to it as “lifting while you climb.”  

          Congresswoman Bass said, “Former Congresswoman Watson is a major inspiration for her unyielding commitment to improving the lives of Angelinos. She has served as a trailblazer in her work domestically and abroad as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School Board, in the California Senate, as U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia and in the United States Congress. I was extremely honored when Congresswoman Watson advised me to serve in the State Assembly and moved when she suggested I run for her seat in Congress. I will do my best to continue her legacy in Congress as a dynamic leader with incredible grace and integrity.”

Dr. Mervyn Dymally, former assemblyman, state senator, lieutenant governor, congressman, and a school teacher colleague of Watson’s at LAUSD, stated: “Diane Watson cut her teeth with the ‘Select Twelve,’ that I founded as a teacher, while working for the Kennedy presidential campaign, upon her return to Los Angeles from Germany where she had a teaching assignment.  The group was headed by early feminist, Portia Craig, who was the den mother of the ‘Select Twelve.’  From that time until now, she and I have remained friends as she moved to the LAUSD, State Senate, Ambassador and U.S. Congress.  At a public meeting in the auditorium of Dorsey High School, where she graduated, she gave me credit for helping her become U.S. Ambassador of Micronesia. 

“When she ran for Congress, I was chair of her campaign; interviewed for an article, I said, ‘Citizen Diane Watson is a public servant of deep commitment who believes in reconciliation, not confrontation.  She is someone who has tremendous class and was a productive legislator in Sacramento and the US Congress.’  I am proud to call her ‘friend’.”

Nathaniel “Nat” Trives, former councilman and mayor of Santa Monica, university professor, and a colleague of Watson stated: “I had the privilege of meeting Diane when she was a student at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles and used to visit Calvary Baptist Church in Santa Monica where I also attended. I knew then she would make her mark in society as pioneer for social justice issues, the foremost being educational equality for all. Our paths crossed again in the 1960’s when we were both students a California State University, Los Angeles, she pursuing an M.S. in Psychology and me pursuing a B.S. in Criminal Justice.

“After having been elected Mayor of Santa Monica in 1975, I continued my relationship with this great lady, and my wife, Ida, and I were delighted to be among her many supporters in her bid for a seat in the California State Senate in the fall of 1977. After a distinguished career in public service, the Honorable Diane Watson retired from the U.S. Congress with many honors being bestowed on her, our friend, Diane Watson.”


          Back when Watson announced her retirement, some of her supporters and colleagues had these comments:


Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: “I have been very fortunate over the years to work with the Honorable Diane E. Watson whom I consider a mentor, colleague and friend.  She has had a long and distinguished career in public service.  She has always been a popular leader, rating highest in polls among her peers on values such as integrity, honesty and hard work.  She is a true champion for the causes in which she believes, placing accountability above irresponsibility and the common interest above the special interest.  I hope that her successor will bring the same dedication to the 33rd congressional district.”

Former Fire Chief Millage Peaks: “She’s earned the time to retire and rest; she has paid her dues.  We are all going to stand on her shoulders and keep pushing.”

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger: “I don’t think that this area has known another policy maker that loves the community as she loves us.  All you have to do is look in the room and see all the people who have surrounded her. I can’t express how much we love her and how much we’ll miss her.”

Charisse Bremond, president of the Brotherhood Crusade: “I think her record speaks for itself; we are honored that she has been able to serve us in so many capacities.” 

Former Assembly-member Gwen Moore: “She was the first African American woman in the Senate and then went to Congress. When she ran for the school board, I ran for the community college board; and when she ran for the Senate, I ran for the Assembly and ever since we’ve been a team.”

          Sen. Curren Price: “Her leadership will be sorely missed here locally and in Washington D.C.”

LAPD Commissioner John Mack: “This is bittersweet day.  Diane Watson is another one of our great, great leaders and public servants.  She gave the word public service a good name.  She came from an era that really made a difference, not about self, and not about trying to promote a personal agenda, but really to promote the people’s agenda.”

Celes King IV:  “Most people don’t realize the tremendous amount of work that Diane has done over the years. She has been a real stalwart in terms of standing up, not only for African Americans but for people of every stripe, especially poor people, the disenfranchised and the marginalized.”