This Day In History: November 5th
From civil rights issues to international affairs, Barbara M. Watson and Victoria Jackson Gray Adams both recognized the need for change within the Black community. In addition to being influential civic leaders, both women were born on November 5!
Barbara Mae Watson was born in New York City on November 5, 1918. She was born into a politically engaged family. Her father was James S. Watson, who was one of the first Black judges elected in New York State and her mother was Violet Lopez Watson who helped to establish the National Council of Negro Women with Mary McLeod Bethune.
After graduating from Barnard College, she founded Brandford Models, Inc. (later changed to Barbara Watson Models) which was a modeling agency and charm school. She also served as the coordinator of Student Activities at Hampton Institute (Hampton University). Watson graduated from New York Law School in 1962 and worked as an attorney for the Board of Statutory Consolidation of the City of New York; the Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York; and as director of the New York City Commission to the United Nations.
In 1966, she joined the United States Department of State and worked under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. She was the first woman and first African-American Assistant Secretary of State. Watson became a U.S. diplomat in 1980 with her appointment to the role of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Malaysia. She retired from her post the following year on March 1, 1981.
Watson died on February 18, 1983, in Washington, D.C.
Just five years after the birth of Watson, civil rights activist Victoria Jackson Gray Adams was born on November 5, 1926, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She was raised by her grandparents on their farm but was able to receive an education and briefly attend Wilberforce University.
Despite not finishing her degree, Adams began her career as a teacher in Mississippi. She also began teaching voter registration classes and fully immersed herself in the world of activism when she became field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She even helped to form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964.
Adams became a national spokesperson for the MFDP and even ran for Senate, making her the first woman from Mississippi to do so. Although she was not successful in her campaign for the Senate seat, Adams continued to be an active advocate for the Black community. She also got involved with other civic groups including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
The remainder of her life was dedicated to the movement. She also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and a campus minister at Virginia State University.
Adams died on August 12, 2006, in Atlanta, Georgia.