Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. was raised by a family of Democrats on what was referred to as "the wrong side of the tracks" in little Eufaula, Okla. So why and how did Watts become the first African American to hold a Republican Party leadership position in the history of the U.S. Congress?
Watts, who is bringing his high-profile tenure in Congress to a close by retiring this year, shares his amazing story in his new book, What Color Is a Conservative? Read the excerpt from his book below.
Chapter One: Family Is the Rock on Which We Build Our Lives
Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. — James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, 1962
Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign manager, and I ought to be friends, but we're not. We're about the same age. We're both proud African Americans who are involved in public service and fascinated by the political arena. Both of us can lay claim to a few "firsts" — she is the first black woman presidential campaign manager, and I am the first black to serve in the House Republican leadership.
Our upbringings are also surprisingly similar. Our fathers both did odd jobs, and we were both raised on the poor side of the tracks. Growing up, love was a lot easier to come by than money. We both felt the sting of racism and exclusion, and I suspect that she too was called "nigger" a few times, as I was. Despite a less than easy road, however, each of us managed to graduate from college and go on to make our mark in politics and government.
Yet with all that we share, Donna Brazile decided to use me to play the race card in the 2000 presidential campaign. Attacking my integrity, my motives, and my commitment to African American children, she told a reporter, "The Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy. They play that game because they have no other game. They have no love and no joy. They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them."
I may have given up boxing years ago, but telling a youth minister he doesn't care about his kids is fightin' words. No one likes to be on the receiving end of a partisan barrage, but if I was going to get shot at, I was glad Colin Powell was in the foxhole with me.
I've never met Donna Brazile. She certainly doesn't know me or what motivates me. Maybe our paths will cross one day, and I'll get to ask her why she chose to single out General Powell and me for what I've come to affectionately call the "full Donna." But knowing her penchant for headline-making remarks (it was an off-hand comment that got her fired as Michael Dukakis's political director in 1988), I found her intemperate comments hardly a surprise.
Ms. Brazile is typical of many black leaders and political operatives today who simply can't accept the notion that there are independent-minded African American men and women who disagree with them, who have rejected their liberal philosophy and approach to problem solving. For them, group identity is more important than individual principles because for them, maintaining the group identity assures the continuation of their power.