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Reflections on King

Many people have been influenced by the words, the message, and the ideals of Dr. King. As this section grows we will explore the lives of leaders and prominent people in society who were directly affected by Dr. King. We will also post the writings from people who never knew MLK, but have been moved by him nonetheless.

The first addition to this section is an interview with Senior Federal Judge James L. Watson.

Interview with Judge James L. Watson

James L. Watson is a 74 year old Senior Federal Judge who works in the Court of International Trade 1 Federal Plaza, New York located in downtown Manhattan. We asked to interview him, having been told that he knew Martin Luther King, Jr. personally.

When we arrived, he graciously welcomed the five of us into his office, telling us to pull up chairs around his pulchritudinously prodigious desk in which, if used as a dining table could seat twice as many. His highbacked seat stood in relief against the five foot window behind him, which looked out onto a classical New York courthouse, held high with corinthian pillars.

The judge has light brown skin, glasses, a mustache and whitish hair on the sides of his head. But his most distinguishing feature is his self-possessed smile, which hints at a mind moving far faster than his unabrupt manner of speaking.

As he spoke he let us look through a big and thick black book, filled with photos of him and and almost every other important figure of the last couple of generations, black and white--such as MLK, Malcom X, Willie Mays etc, ... He also spoke a bit about his family, which has a long history of advanced degrees and prestigious positions in society. His father, James S. Watson, was born in Jamaica and went on to become the first black judge in New York state--appointed in 1931. His sister, Barbara, was the first woman African American in the State Department; she was Assistant Secretary of State and when she passed, was the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia. Among his living cousins, Watson counts Colin Powell. The resemblance there is apparent.

The question was asked, why did MLK become so serious with civil rights, why did he make it his business? Judge Watson answered saying "he was dedicated and directly affected." The judge pointed to MLK's religious background and one of his most important influences, Ghandi." MLK was "directly affected by the teachings of Ghandi in terms of his his non-violent approach to things."

King, Mrs. Watson and Judge Watson


    "MLK's personality shone forth with a certain grandeur."

    It was the March on Washington where Judge Watson met MLK for the first time. The Judge knew him through his wife, who had known Martin while he was attending Morehouse College. During this famous speech in 1963,he sat on stage 10 rows behind MLK. Afterwards he remarked, "I was very impressed, anyone present could not help but be impressed and influenced."

    Judge Watson described Martin Luther King as being a "religious man, almost prophetic..." We asked him about what it was like to speak with him. "In person, he was self-effacing. He wasn't obsessed with his own importance." In response to a question about his Gandhi-like ideals, he said, "he was a militant for peace and nonviolence... Martin tried to change things with love, not war."


    It became clear not too long into the interview that the judge had been closer to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. He seemed to know him on a very personal, friendly level. A few times during the interview he stopped himself to apologize for digressing into discussions of people and places that were not directly relevant to MLK, stating all the same that there was a tie in.

    He told the story of being at a rally many years ago, up at the armory on Fifth Avenue. He remembers standing there when two arms came over his shoulders and held him. A voice then spoke into his ear, saying "Judge, you've gotta keep eyes in the back of your head. Don't hang around with me or you might get wasted." That voice was Malcolm, still known at that time as Detroit Red. In response to Malcolm, Judge Watson replied, "let me tell you Malcolm, if I gotta go I can't think of better company to go with."

    The judge pulled out a half-empty softpack of cigarettes. He drew out a Marlboro Light 100, lit it and slowly pulled on the cigarette as if he hadn't had one in years. Before he began speaking about all of this history he commented was generally reluctant to recount such things, not because of nostalgia of the events, but because all the people in them are dead. He took another long drag on the cigarette, which dangled between his two fingers.

    The Judge then spoke of Malcom X and MLK together, pointing out that they had different ideals, varying constintuencies, and differing methods; but, fundamentally, they were pushing for the same things. Watson posited that, "you have to have people at both ends of the spectrum to accomplish the common good."

    The Judge mused on the nature of Malcolm X, declaring him at one point, even more charismatic than Martin Luther King.

    Looking at us, I suppose he assumed that we all may have very different outlooks on certain issues. Creating an air as if sides are being formed over some debate, he declared "I wouldn't be too quick to condemn your position, because we might be going to the same goal." Seeing the need and importance of both Malcolm and Martin Luther, he added, "I don't believe in one direction, one thrust."

    Before leaving, Judge Watson would mention a bit about his own life. He had earned three purple hearts from battle on the Italian front. Confirming this, the Judge pulled up a pant leg to reveal a permanent gouge in his shin, the size of a small fist. In 1966 he became the tenth African American to be appointed to the Federal Court. While he was attending law school in Brooklyn, he owned a liquor store in Harlem. He went to class in the morning and worked at night.

    King and Watson

    Judge Watson stressed the importance of education, above all else. People would sometimes ask him why he was going to school when he had a liquor store. The young Watson would point to his license on the wall and say, "you see that? They can take that away from me... What's up here," he would say, pointing to his head, "no one can take that."

  • Here's another interesting page:

    Reflections on Doctor Martin Luther King.